By Leonard Kelley
You may see students on campus walking with their favorite, loyal canine study buddy.
A variety of dogs walk around the campus. Inside the LAC Viking Food Court, Elmer Ugarte, 26, a freshman physical therapy major walks proudly with his friend Patches, a highly trained Golden Retriever service dog who can detect what’s around him and alarm Elmer when he needs to be alert about his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Patches had no problem staying close to his master and did not pay attention to distractions around him. Even as they walked quickly in a hurry to get to class, Patches had a temperament of alertness.
Darla Drummond, a former Navy jet engine mechanic, served four years, including a tour in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay. She walks with a 6-year-old Great Dane, Fubar, through the campus, on their way to play in Heartwell Park.
At the PCC, Brian Hastie, a vocational instruction technician in horticulture, said, “I have seen human assisted students, but in 10 years of being a staff member, I cannot think of one service dog. However, I have seen barking Chihuahuas and skinny road dogs free running on campus.”
During lunch at the LAC Food Court, Arron Ball, a music major is with Adam, his service dog, 10-year old Tiny Toy, a poodle.
Adam was a rescue dog, retrained to meet Ball’s partial hearing needs. Adam is Ball’s ears and identifies sound’s location by how Adam’s body reacts. Adam seeks out all surrounding sounds.
One concern for service dog owners was made by Ball: “People passing off their animal as a service companion creates hardships for the disabled. Untrained dogs are likely to act up and cause disruption making people question the viability of real trained service dogs.”
Marti Sellers, a liberal arts major, had her partial sight restored 17-years ago by surgery. She was walked into the LAC Food Court by Mercedes, her 8-year old yellow Labrador service dog. Sellers said, “I say `ice’ and no matter where she is on campus directing me, Mercedes will find the Food Court where she may get some ice.”
Every semester, Mercedes returns to Sellers’ new classrooms. Mercedes knows to avoid going to the old classrooms and she has never gone to the wrong location. Mercedes even knows when to take the steps or the ramp, depending on whether Sellers is pulling her roller bag or not.
Service dogs are always welcome on campus and Lt. Julie Prior with the campus police said, “Students or visitors do not have to register their animals.”