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Service dogs on campus

Zoe Ohlstein // Provided

Service dog Cosmo poses in front of the Reflection Pond on campus 

While walking around campus, chances are, on an average day, you see a few friendly-looking pups wearing yellow service dog vests.  
While your natural instinct may be to pet them, potentially distracting the worker can be incredibly detrimental to both owner and dog. The Tiger sat down with Zoe Ohlstein, a junior chemistry major and owner of Cosmo the service dog, to review proper etiquette around service dogs on campus.  
Grace O’Donnell (GOD): What are some basics you wish people knew about approaching a service dog? 
Zoe Ohlstein (ZO): I wish people knew to definitely keep their distance and approach their handler, not the dog, and to not ask to pet. 90% of the time, it’s going to be a no, especially at a store when the handler is shopping or just busy in general. I get so many people asking me to pet Cosmo while I’m in the middle of a different conversation or clearly in the middle of something, and it can be very frustrating; a really big issue I get is people speaking to Cosmo and then getting annoyed when I tell them he’s working. Even if “they weren’t going to pet him,” speaking to them or even mouthing words can be very distracting to service dogs! 
GOD: What are the dangers of someone approaching you while your dog is working? 
ZO: I know for others a big danger of someone approaching a service dog can be reactivity. A lot of service dogs can be protective of their handlers or are just still in training and can take someone approaching them as a reason to protect. It also can be very overwhelming when I’m already stressed or anxious while doing something else, and someone approaches me, so it can make me feel more anxious or distract Cosmo. He’s still in training, so it’s very frustrating when he’s doing well and someone comes and gets him distracted and excited. 
GOD: How do you feel about “fake” service dogs and how they impact actual service dogs? 
ZO: The topic of fake service dogs has made it difficult for me since Cosmo is a psychiatric service dog, so it’s an invisible disability. I get a lot of people assuming he’s a fake service dog or an ESA (emotional support animal), which is so different. I’ve had some people get angry with me because they want to take their ESA out in public and think they’re the same thing, even though service dogs go through task training. I’ve also been told I have no idea what I’m doing since I’m not disabled, which can be very frustrating since people have no idea what I deal with and the time I’ve put in with him. Running into fake service dogs can be stressful since they’re not trained to ignore other dogs and will try to play with Cosmo, which obviously gets him distracted. I’ve also had fake service dogs bark at Cosmo, which is a huge issue in itself as well. 
GOD: How important do you think it is for people to be aware of service dogs for not only physical disabilities and illnesses but mental and psychological as well? So-called “invisible illnesses.”
ZO: I think it’s super important that people understand not all disabilities are visible and to be respectful of that because it’s incredibly frustrating and degrading to have to “prove” that you have a disability if they can’t see it. I’ve also had people try to compare their anxiety to mine, saying they don’t need a service dog, so I shouldn’t either, which again is hurtful because everyone is different and needs different ways to cope. 
GOD: Last but not least, share some information about Cosmo!  
ZO: For Cosmo, he’s a year and a half, and his birthday is October 14. He’s a pit bull terrier mixed with Australian Shepherd and a little German Shepherd, Rottweiler and Llewellin setter! He’s a crazy dog, but he loves to please and have a task to do, so training has gone really well with him except when he wants to be stubborn. He’s really friendly, which is great but can also be a little bit difficult for him to learn; he can’t say hi to everyone. He LOVES the beach since he loves to swim, dig, and chase sticks, and he also goes crazy for peanut butter, carrots, and ice cream! 

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Grace O'Donnell, Sports Editor
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