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5 Things I've Learned From Having a Service Dog in College

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I am currently a university student in Utah and I also happen to be one of the few people on campus to have a service dog. I live on campus so every day I am around students. I’ve learned a lot about having an at times “invisible” disability that requires a service dog (SD). Here are the ones I never expected.

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1. I became so recognizable, but also incredibly invisible.

Around campus, unless I do not have my service dog for some reason with me, everyone knows who I am or who they recognize me as. I have officially, but not very willingly, taken the role as “girl with dog” on campus. When I walk around anywhere on campus people stare; they know my service dog’s name but not mine. They talk to my dog, make eye-contact with him, and look at him all before or if they even do address me. It is lonely to say the least. So many people on campus know of me, but they do not actually know me.

2. People decide I am lucky to have my dog on campus.

I am lucky to have a service dog because of how hard it is to legitimately own one. I am not lucky to have a dog on campus and bring him wherever I go — that is a basic human right of people with disabilities. People do not understand that when I hear this it equates to them saying I am lucky to be disabled, and I am not. Some days I do wish I did not need my service dog, I wish I could just go out without taking the extra time and steps for my SD. It’s like having a really helpful toddler, but still you have to get them dressed, make sure they have gone potty, strap them up in the car and so much more. So the next time you think “I wish I had a service dog to take everywhere,” think again.

3. No matter how much someone sees my dog, they act like he is a unicorn.

Every time I leave my dorm room, or go to class, there is always one person that makes a big deal about my dog. I have been asked rapid fire questions during class when all I wanted to do was learn. People have tried to sneak pets even when his vest says to leave him alone and I have told people countless times. I have had someone sneak up behind me to pet him, but thankfully I caught them before they could distract him. It’s just a dog, you’ll be OK if you do not pet him.

4. Dorm life is interesting.

I do not have a roommate — it is just my service dog and I in one room with our own bathroom. I prefer this setup for many reasons beyond having a service dog. Every time my SD has to go potty, we walk down a flight of stairs and go in the grass. Then I have to use my keycard twice to get back in the building, then a separate key to go into my room. So a hands free leash and backpack is necessary.

5. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my service dog.

My service dog means freedom to me and I could not have moved hundreds of miles away from my support network without him. He is the reason I am able to get through my college experience.

Please respect service dogs and their handlers — their independence depends on it.

Getty image by Shizuko Alexander.

Originally published: October 17, 2019
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