Use of service dogs at BC on the rise

Service dogs provide more than mobility assistance; some, like Wafi, allow students to fully enjoy the college experience

Zach Sullivan , Reporter

As the number of service animals on Bakersfield College’s campus increases, so does awareness about what these animals can do for disabled students and veterans.

Dr. Terri Goldstein, director of Disabled Students Programs and Services at Bakersfield College, believes there is a specific reason for the increase in service animals.

“I think there’s a lot more awareness. That’s why you’re seeing a lot more service dogs. I think we’re learning what dogs can do for people,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein estimates there are 6 or 7 service dogs currently at Bakersfield College, and there could be two more by next fall. She said there is no limit to the amount of dogs that can be on school grounds as long as they are properly registered.

According to Goldstein, there is a formal process one must go through before they are allowed to bring a service animal to school. “To get a service dog you got to go through your doctor and get a prescription and train the dog. The dog can be formally trained, it can be self-trained, but it has to be under the owner’s control at all times,” she said.

Service animals should be registered with the city and also have the blue square harness on their body that identifies the dog as a service animal.

There are two classifications of service animals that are permitted on campus: service dogs and therapy dogs.

“If it’s a service dog, there are two different types of dogs, so a service dog performs a service. They are the ones guiding people that are blind, that are hearing ear dogs. I’ve seen balance dogs that help people balance, wheel chairs, all kinds of different dogs. There are dogs that can smell if someone is going to have a seizure, there’s dogs that can remind people to take medications,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein explained that as long as the dog is a working animal, they are allowed to go anywhere with their owner.

“Service dogs, if it’s a working dog, they don’t have to bring it in to get permission, the dog is allowed to go wherever the owner goes,” Goldstein said.

Therapy dogs are dogs that do not perform a service such as assisting the blind or hearing dogs. Instead, they are mostly used for comfort and emotional support. For example, a veteran who has PTSD could use a service dog to help them wake up from a bad dream and calm them down. These dogs are becoming more and more prevalent due to the fact that many people are finding out just how useful they can be.

Goldstein says there is no guarantee the dog will be allowed on campus.

“Therapy dogs are more of a comfort animal. Also, they do not perform a service so they may or may not be allowed on campus. It’s a case-by-case basis. It depends on the need of the person, and also the behavior of the animal,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein said that in her three years as the Director of Disabled Students Programs and Services, she has not had any reported incidents of service dogs being a distraction.

Denise Martinez, 22, a student at Bakersfield College, was born without eyes. She says her service dog Wafi, a 2-year-old black lab, helps her get around and feel comfortable in her daily life.

“She makes me feel comfortable in a number of ways. Number one being that I don’t have to worry about where I’m going, she pretty much takes me to where I need to go,” said Martinez.

While Martinez’s dog is legally a service animal, she can also be considered a therapy dog because of the tight bond that Martinez has formed with Wafi.

“She’s a good companion when I’m stressed out with classes, I just sit and love on her and that brings me a sense of comfort,” Martinez said.

Martinez claims having Wafi with her on a regular basis gives her a sense of independence. “It is more independence because I’m not having to hold on to somebody’s arm or use a white cane.

“It’s just like, I don’t know, it’s this awesome feeling that I get not having any sight, yet walking with a dog is like I’m walking like a sighted person.”

Martinez claims that even though she cannot see, having her service dog on campus makes her feel like she can.

“With our connection I consider her not just a person, but my actual eyes. I was born without eyeballs; she is my real eyes.” Martinez said.