Animals are everywhere at Southern, and it’s not just squirrels, chipmunks or Doug the groundhog. Students and university police have invested in emotional support and service animals, that have become popular on campus.
While the university police are preparing for a new furry officer, junior sociology major, Juliana Lee, a junior sociology major, has had her corgi mix registered as a service dog for a year. His name is Kato, and he is a rescue dog.
“All of our animals are rescue. We are used to the trauma that comes with the rescue, but he was scared of other dogs, at first so, I had to leave him with the trainer for a week to be boarded and trained that way. So, it was a little difficult getting that fear out of him and getting him used to other dogs,” Lee says.
Lee says Kato is also terrified of bikes, scooters and skateboards; she believes it’s because he was probably chased by them when he was a stray.
Lee trained for four months to get Kato as her service dog. She trained every two weeks for two hours. She also had to do public training with him to get him used to being around certain people and objects in stores.
“I always joke that people are either staring because he’s just so cute or they are trying to figure out what’s wrong with me,” Lee says. “But I only say that because it’s constant or if I don’t see them staring, I hear them, because they are like ‘oh my god he’s so cute’ or ‘oh my god, hi baby,’ and it’s fine, but you’re not supposed to do that. So, it gets frustrating and he’s very good,” she says.
Lee says since she has gotten Kato as her service dog it has helped her immensely with her day-to-day life and activities. Having him has helped Lee with getting her out of her dorm, because she has to walk him and then go to classes with him.
Lee says that getting Kato was an investment, but it was worth it.
“When I say I was a shell of a person, I was not kidding, like I was really very much not there, and so it’s cheesy, but he’s brought me back to life I guess,” Lee says.
Campus rules state that dogs are the only animal that can be service animals.
One of the most famous dogs on campus is Brody, an explosive detection dog. Due to his popularity on campus, university police have decided to get another service dog. They’ll be getting another Labrador, like Brody, but don’t yet know if it will be male or female. “Community engagement will be the primary goal for our new officer,” Sgt. Cynthia Torres says.
Torres will be the one training with this new service dog. On Jan. 9, Torres will be going to a prison in New York to train with their new dog between 10 to 12 hours a day.
This will be through the “Puppies Behind Bars” program. The program helps inmates who want to work with these dogs. They train the dogs before the officer goes in and works with both the dog and the inmate.
“[Service dogs] have had a far-reaching impact on a lot of people. We don’t always know what that impact is. Some of the institutions that have started to use service dogs have just found that they didn’t realize how great the need was for something like this to be on campus,” Deputy Chief Kenneth Rahn says. “A lot of students, teachers, faculty have pets and animals at home so this kind of bridges that gap of when they come back to campus and being around. A lot of time with Brody, you will get people that will start talking about their pets at home when they are around Brody.”
Torres is looking forward to many aspects of the “Puppies Behind Bars” program, but she is most excited about engaging students and working with a new partner.
“Just with a few events that we have been done with the service animals and even with Brody. So, it’s like a force multiplier, it brings it to a whole new level. So that engagement with students, that I already love working with, and having a partner, that’s going to be really nice,” she says.
Among the other animals on campus, is one owned by Kenzie Frawley, a freshman Earth science major, has a cold-blooded friend.
“She’s a classic Indonesian blue-tongued skink. Her species is very similar to a bearded dragon,” Frawley says.
Frawley lives in a single room at her dormitory, but even though she lives alone, she says that she feels like she has another roommate with Blue, the name of the blue-tongue skink.
Frawley has noticed that many people at the dorm at times come to her room just to say hello to Blue, and some think it is cool that she has a skink as her emotional support animal.
“In terms of stress or panic or anxiety, it just lets you focus on something else and have an animal there to help you forget about those things and kind of like a coping mechanism,” Frawley says.
Tayler Cowles, a senior English secondary education major, has registered her cat, Ezekial, “Zeke,” as her emotional support animal. He’s been on campus for two semesters and according to Cowles, “Zeke” has “been a blessing” for her since getting him.
“He has been my strength in recovering from depression. I’m never lonely and at the end of everyday he is there to greet me with snuggles,” Cowles says. “He is family to me and he has healed my heart after a very hard school year, last year. “Zeke” is not my first ESA, but he is my best match.”
Story by: Sofia Rositani