Students are taking notice of their four-legged classmates training to serve.
Gerardo Altamirano, the assistant dean and director of the Disability Resource Center, said he has noticed more service animals on campus because he thinks the stigma about disabilities is starting to change.
There are currently 2,740 students registered with the Disability Resource Center, Altamirano said. Students are not required to register their service dog or emotional support animal, so there are not exact numbers.
There are two animals that are considered service animals: either a dog or a miniature horse, Altamirano said. Emotional support animals can be any animal, but they are not protected under the American Disabilities Act. Only service animals are allowed on campus outside of dorm rooms.
Students only need to register the service animal if he or she lives on campus or if a teacher requires the registration for class.
Ashley Rosser, a 20-year-old UF advertising junior, trains service animals. She started volunteering with New Horizon Service Dogs Inc., a nonprofit organization that pairs trained dogs with disabled people, two months ago.
New Horizon Service Dogs sent instructions to Rosser about how to train and socialize Rhea, Rosser’s golden retriever. Rhea is learning how to pull open doors and acclimate to different environments a student may go to, like class, campus and the library.
Victoria Maddison, a 19-year-old UF health education and behavior sophomore, is training her own emotional support dog Hazel, a 3-month-old miniature Australian shepherd.
A person does not need to be certified to train an emotional support animal, Maddison said.
Maddison grew up with animals and trained her childhood dog, Carly, when she was 14 years old. She said she didn’t enjoy college and became sad without the comfort of her pets running up to greet her at the end of the day.
“I really wanted that again — to come home, be excited and have something to look forward to,” Maddison said.
Maddison said she’s noticed an increase in service dogs and emotional support dogs on campus and in the community.
To own an emotional support animal or service dog, Altamirano said, a person may have a disability that prevents them from going about their day like others. This could include epilepsy, diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or a balance or blindness-related disability.
“A service animal should be conceptualized as a wheelchair,” Altamirano said. “It is an extension of the individual that allows them to function in society. It can serve as a buffer for an individual that has severe social anxiety, or if the individual is about to have a seizure it bolsters a purpose.”