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New policy to outline rules for animals on campus

For students such as Amanda Balinski, a classroom setting can be problematic for her and her dog.

Balinski, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, doesnt have what she calls an obvious disability.

But without her black poodle Marcus, Balinski said her life would be difficult.

Marcus, she said, is not a physical disorder dog but a mental disorder dog. Balinski suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Marcus, she said, helps her.

He can actually smell the chemical imbalance for when a panic attack occurs, and he can alert me before it happens so I can prevent it from disabling me throughout the day, Balinski said. Just a tiny bit of stress or a chain of events can lead you into suffering without even realizing it … Last semester it got so bad to where I was failing all my courses, and then when I came across (Marcus), it went from Ds to Bs within a month. Him helping me be able to focus is a huge help.

But when she got Marcus last October, she ran into a few bumps with bringing Marcus with her to campus.

(The school) has never had a service dog for mental disability like they do for physical disability, she said.

But now a new policy, which is being promulgated by USFs General Counsel, will clearly outline the definitions of service animals, emotional support animals and all other animals allowed on campus.

Previously, public places, such as the Marshall Student Center, were governed by policies outlined by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), but classrooms had no defined rules. The policy, Animals on Campus, will attempt to clarify policies for the entire university.

Raquel Pancho, associate director of Students with Disabilities Services (SDS), said the former policies could be confusing to some.

When an individual wants to bring in a service animal into the classroom, there is nothing saying what that individual actually has to do according to policy, Pancho said.

Service animals, which are defined by the ADA as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities will need to meet qualifications in order for the policies to be applicable. Another provision of the ADA also includes miniature horses as service animals.

With all the varying tasks service animals canperform for those with varying disabilities, Pancho and others at the SDS office are working to register students with disabilities and service animals to help solve problems that may arise.

When a student comes in with a dog the professor may say, What is this? Why do you have this? Pancho said. Just to make it easier for students, what we are doing is having them register with us so that connection will be
formally written so students can bring it to the professor and say they are registered with our office.

The new policy will require students to register service animals, define eligible persons for service animals and differentiate between a service animal, emotional support animal, assistance animal, and an approved animal.

According to Pancho, only three students are currently registered to have service animals on campus.

However, Pancho said she has seen other students with dogs around campus, some even wearing jackets similar to those on many service animals.

I dont know if they are a person with a disability, legitimately having a service animal or if theyre trying to bypass the rules here on campus, she said. I worry about that …There are possibly a lot of other students that have service animals on
campus, Pancho said. But we are unaware of them if they arent registered with us.

Balinskis has been registered with the SDS office since mid-Fall, when her dog Marcus passed his training in October.

Pancho said SDS hopes to make it easier for students who register with them.

We have students who have visual disabilities who have service animals on campus, and that is usually a clear cut thing, she said. But when it is not necessarily obvious what the students disability is, then they can then bring that letter to their professor.

Balinski said she looksforward to the possibility of the improved policy.

If you have some sort of disability, you shouldnt be harassed about it too much, she said. If there is a problem, and you constantly harass someone about it, it only gets more stressful.