Sept. 22: Learn how service dogs make life ‘Paws-able’ at Yale

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For Madison Papir ’19, life at Yale would not be possible without the help of her dog Isha, a German Shepherd.

She is grateful that the university provides a welcoming environment for students who rely on the assistance of service dogs and for the dogs themselves.

As part of its effort to create a supportive environment for Papir and other Yale affiliates who use guide dogs, the Yale University Provost Committee on Resources for Students and Employees — in association with Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation — will present the informational session  “Service Dogs: Making Life Paws-able at Yale” on Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 3 p.m. in Rm. 102 of Linsly-Chittenden Hall, 63 High St. It is open to all members of the Yale community.

At the event, experts from Fidelco, an internationally recognized leader in the guide dog industry, will talk about the work of service dogs, including their training, the tasks they perform for their owners, and the rights and privileges of service dogs that are on campus and live in university housing, among other topics.

“Well-trained service dogs can be amazing supports to individuals with a variety of disabilities,” says Judy York, director of Yale’s Resource Office on Disabilities. “We want the Yale community to realize how valuable the dogs can be in many different ways and the protocol we should learn when we encounter a service dog and its owner.”

In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other state and federal laws, Yale allows students with disabilities to bring service animals to campus to perform work or tasks related to the disability. Yale employees who require the assistance of a service animal to perform their work due to a disability are also generally permitted to bring their service animals to campus. A service animal is defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The work or tasks performed by the animal must be directly related to the person’s disability.” These tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and/or protecting a person who is having a seizure, or reminding a person to take medication.

Papir, who doesn’t have a visible disability, sometimes has to explain why she needs a service dog.

“Most people who see me wonder why I could need a service dog because I seem pretty ‘regular,’” says the Yale freshman. “But I only look that way because I have had good training/coaching that my mom and dad worked really hard to start early on and helped me continue to work on as I got older.”

Madison Papir ’19 of Silliman College and her service dog, Isha. Photo by Renita Heng ’16.

Papir describes her service dog as her “prefrontal cortex.”

“Some service dogs work with people who can’t see or hear too well,” she comments. “Isha’s my service dog for the exact opposite: As a result of the way my brain works, I perceive way too much sight, sound, and extra input that most people don’t register — like a higher frequency sound or light from fluorescents, the vibrating quartz/electronic oscillator in someone’s watch next door, the texture of the table beneath my hand as I take notes, etc. Sometimes I can even sense if somebody in the room has a pacemaker!

“I was born without some of the fancier brain hardware that tells us which input is ‘important’ and which should be ‘blocked out’ so you can manage the ‘important,’” continues Papir. “Isha’s job is to imitate some of that missing hardware by notifying me of the important stimuli I miss (especially when in a high-stimulation environment). For example, she notifies me when I’ve dropped something, that my name’s been called, that it’s time to take medication, that my alarm clock or phone is ringing, or that a smoke alarm is sounding, etc. Sometimes when I’m flooded with sensory input, my vision and depth perception further deteriorate. In those situations I can grab a part of her harness so she can help me navigate obstacles like stairs and she can also brace for a fall.”

Papir trained Isha herself to become a service dog, working with the organization Canines Assisting Military Vets Organization, where she also helped train dogs rescued from shelters as mobility dogs for returning wounded veterans. As Isha’s principal trainer, Papir designed all of personalized-service task work the dog would perform for her. Throughout the process, the Yale student has worked closely with her mentor, world-renowned French ring trainer and breeder Ludovic Teurbane, who has over 30- years of experience in competitive dog sports training, and his wife, Paulina de Velasco, co-owners of Dog Connection.

Attendees at the Sept. 22 presentation will learn what behaviors are acceptable around service dogs like Ishaso as not to disrupt them from their important jobs. Proper protocol around service dogs includes the following:

1)    Service dogs should not be touched without permission, or offered treats or food.

2)    Do not whistle or make distracting sounds around service dogs.

3)    If you would like to speak, speak to the owner and not to the service dog.

4)    When walking your own dog, do not treat a service dog as a possible playmate for your own pet. Keep your dog a distance apart if it will interfere with the tasks of a service dog.

These tips and more will be discussed in greater detail during the “Service Dogs: Making Life Paws-able at Yale” event.

“We’ve had a couple of service dogs on campus for folks who are blind,” says York, “but this year marks the first time we’ll have a dog on campus for someone with a non-apparent disability. We can all benefit from learning about how we can best accommodate those on our campus who rely on service dogs, so I look forward to having both students and staff members in attendance.”

Click here to see Yale’s policy regarding service dogs and other assistance animals.

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