Vanessa Hart

As her morning alarm blares, Kenzie Carlson wakes up. 

Atlas is already staring at her from his crate. Atlas is a Poodle and Carlson’s service dog. 

Before she departs her dorm for her first class at 9 a.m. she dresses Atlas in his vest, which serves as his cue that it’s time to work. As they head to the morning shuttle, Carlson walks with confidence thanks to the physical support Atlas provides.

Atlas is one of several service dogs on campus. Atlas serves as a mobility device for Carlson, and must stay with her at all times. He attends classes with her and is allowed on all areas of campus, even cafeterias. Whether in the middle of a lecture or heading to the library, Atlas must be ready to perform his tasks at a moment’s notice. 

Service animals are defined as animals who help their handler mitigate a disability. These animals are classified as medical equipment and are necessary for their handlers to have more independence. Some students at Florida Southern College are service dog handlers, and it’s important for other students to recognize the importance and impact of these animals. 

As she eats her lunch at an outside table, Atlas is allowed some time to stretch his legs and take a break. Carlson not only keeps an eye on him, but also watches for other dogs on campus. 

“Understand that when Atlas is vested, he is working for me, but he is not a robot,” Carlson said. “Even if he makes a mistake he is still a legitimate service dog.”

For a student to bring a service animal on campus, they must first receive permission from the Office of Disability Services, led by Dr. Marcie Pospichal. The Office is allowed to ask two questions, per ADA guidelines: Is the animal needed because of a disability?  What tasks does the animal perform for their handler? No specific documentation from any organization or trainer is required.

“We don’t ask for any sort of documentation regarding disability. Sometimes students will volunteer that information. We don’t ask for a diagnosis,” Pospichal explained. 

Once an animal is confirmed to be a legitimate service animal, vaccination history and state license history are required. This license is not specific to service animals but applies to a state license collar tag issued to all animals. 

A picture of the animal is sent to all faculty, particularly the student’s professors, so they know the dog is allowed to be with the student at all times. 

If the student lives in a residence with roommates, all roommates must agree to live with the animal.

The handler is responsible for reaching out to a trainer to correct the behavior or correct the behavior themselves, either through training or further accommodations. Biting is the only behavior that would result in immediate dismissal of the animal.

Carlson says that she has had no issues with professors, other faculty or roommates. 

Her biggest concern involves keeping herself and Atlas safe when it comes to other dogs on campus. 

Some other service dog teams or Emotional Support Animals (ESA) have become too excited or aggressive when passing by, which puts both the handler and animal at risk.

“I feel safe about seventy-five percent of the time,” Carlson admitted. She explained that most ESAs and service dog teams are perfectly fine-it is the outliers that are cause for her concern.

 Emotional Support Animals provide comfort to their owners but do not perform any specific task to help their handler. They do not have access to all areas of campus and are only allowed in residence halls. Whether a service dog or ESA it is the handler’s responsibility to keep them well behaved and under control. 

Upon returning to Carlson‘s apartment, Atlas is fed dinner and then given time to play with toys and ask for belly rubs-in short, his working day is over and he is about the opportunity to spend time with his owner just like any other dog. 

“These animals are miracles. They give people access to their complete educational experience,” Pospichal said. 


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