Programs such as the Lions Foundation that allow families and students to foster puppies who are training to become service dogs have become more active on campus. Although there are no official policies regarding the presence of future guide dogs on campus grounds, students choosing to participate in the program have been accommodated for.</p>
In compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), universities must permit persons with disabilities to bring their service animals onto campus. However, foster puppies are not officially certified and therefore are not protected under these rights. The university is currently in the midst of revising Policy 32: Pets, which states that personal pets are prohibited inside all campus buildings. Laurie Arnott, of the employment and human rights legal counsel, suggested that foster puppies will be accommodated for in the revision.
“[Foster puppies] certainly don’t fall under the category of service animals as of yet because they haven’t met the tests that come along. But they are definitely more than pets,” Arnott said. “There is a purpose for them and the university wants to respect that people want to facilitate this process. So all of that is being taken into consideration in terms of this policy.”
For students taking part in the guide dog training program, professors and employers on campus have been very accommodating as long as the foster puppy is wearing a training vest.
“I try and go to class without [the puppy] at the beginning so as to let them know that I foster service puppies and am bringing one. Then they can ask the class if anyone has allergies. A lot of times if that is an issue, we just sit far apart,” said Shannon Graham, who is currently fostering nine-month old Opal.
“I work at CIF and PAC and as long as he has his vest on, it’s fine,” said Aysun Osmansoy, foster parent of two-month old Dobby.
When asked if there is any place the puppies are not permitted, Graham explained that there are certain situations where she cannot bring Opal.
“Midterms. That’s about it… Opal is a busybody so just because she [is] loud and playful, they ask me not to bring her for midterms,” Graham said.
Although the university has been flexible, managing school and work while fostering the puppy has been challenging.
“At the beginning it was too much and I couldn’t even focus on work,” Osmansoy said. “So I would use my resources. I used my friends who wanted to play with my cute puppy. ‘Ok, keep him for a few hours while I study for my midterm.’ Not going to lie, I did push school aside at some points because I would rather hang out with my puppy. It has become a challenge to learn how to deal with school and him at the same time.”
The irresistibility of the little canines presents itself as another challenge.
“One of the challenges is people reaching down and petting him. Or I will be looking away for a few seconds and I will look back and people are calling him over or petting him. With a guide dog, he can’t always be pet and sometimes we are trying to complete a task and I don’t need distractions. So I think awareness is very important for the things he is allowed to do and the things he isn’t,” Osmansoy said.
All university staff, along with most volunteers, must complete AODA customer service training which includes service animals and how to treat them.
When asked how the university would target students not involved with the university, Arnott listed on-campus support systems:
“Through student organizations, through residence, through the student success center- I believe there are a number of initiatives going on around campus. Definitely using those connections with offices that service students.”