Service animals on campus disrupted by students, staff and faculty

Recently, concerns raised by students regarding disruptions to service animals on campus were addressed in a campus wide email sent by Joe Virata. According to UCR’s Policies and Procedures, an animal trained to provide a service in support of a mentally, physically or an emotionally disabled individual, may enter UCR-owned, operated or leased buildings as dictated by the needs of the individual who it is serving.

In the email, Virata claimed that a number of incidents were reported to the campus where students, staff or faculty have been disruptive to service animals and their companions on-campus. He asked that students, staff and faculty not disrupt service animals and recognize that service animals, “are working and are performing a critical support service for their humans”.

According to Laura Riley, director of the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC), at UCR service animals are considered trained animals (dogs or miniature horses) that perform functions and tasks that individuals with a disability cannot perform for themselves. The tasks performed must be directly related to the disability of the individual. Emotional support animals must be approved by the Student Disability Resource Center.

According to Virata’s email, the disruptions take place in a variety of forms: trying to take photos of the animals, attempting to pet them or hug them, trying to get their attention by calling to them or whistling at them and interrupting the service animal and their companion while they are walking.

Pets allowed to run free on campus have also disrupted the service animals through attempts at fighting or playing with service animals. According to Riley, service animals by their function and training do not respond to distractions by other people’s pets. “They have been trained to focus on their job when they are at work with the person with a disability. What will sometimes happen is the “pet” will go after the service dog (aggression, playing or otherwise) and the service dog ends up getting hurt because it has been trained not to respond to the actions of others toward it,” stated Riley. Riley noted that through law and policy, pet owners are responsible for the actions of their animals. Given that UCR has public spaces, UCR cannot ensure a pet will not interfere with a service animal. However, through information such as the email Virata sent out and reporting mechanisms, pet owners can be informed and held responsible.

To prevent further disruptions, Riley stated that members of the university community are expected to not inquire about details regarding the disability of an individual who uses an assistive animal on campus due to the private nature of disabilities. The university community will also allow a service animal to accompany the individual it is serving at all times and in all places on campus, except where the presence of the service animal presents an unreasonable threat to the health or safety of other individuals on campus.

In some situations or settings, such as animal research laboratories and areas housing research or teaching animals, it may be necessary to restrict a service animal. In those situations or settings, Riley stated that UCR will work with the individual with the disability and the faculty member or determine other options for the Individual with the disability to receive the benefits of the university.

According to Riley, students, staff and faculty should not touch, feed, deliberately startle, pet or attempt to separate a service animal from their handler.

To report an incident or a complaint involving the service animal of a student, contact the Student Disability Resource Center. To report an incident or complaint involving the service animal of an employee, contact UCR Human Resources. The Student Disability Resource Center and Human Resources will address and refer matters as appropriate.

Service animals or any other animals that present an immediate safety risk on campus should be reported by calling 911. UCPD officers will respond to stop an animal in circumstances where the animal reasonably appears to pose an imminent threat to human safety.

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