By Briana Thomas
For Unwind magazine
The 3-year-old mutt who lives with senior mechanical engineering major Emily Posey at The Varsity seems like the average four-legged companion.
He curls up in his dog bed, chows down twice a day, plays at a dog park with another furry friend and leaves traces of his shedded coat everywhere.
But Rowan — a rescue dog from a Border Collie rescue in Texas — is anything but typical. He’s a service dog.
“This means that he has been specially trained to perform tasks that help mitigate my disability,” Posey said.
Diagnosed with bipolar II and panic disorder, Posey has Rowan accompany her everywhere she goes, including class.
“Rowan forces me to go outside, get exercise and interact with people even when my depression is telling me to stay in bed,” Posey explained. “He wakes me up and keeps me from sleeping excessively, which is one of my main symptoms of my depression.”
Rowan, a psychiatric support dog, senses Posey’s stress levels so he can alert Posey of approaching panic attacks.
“He bothers me, like puts his head on my lap, nudges me, paws at me until he gets my attention,” she said.
Rowan performs deep pressure therapy by lying across Posey’s lower abdomen, which she said decreases her anxiety levels.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, service animals undergo training in order to perform tasks to assist a person with a disability, be it physical, psychiatric, sensory or intellectual.
So how can The Varsity allow Posey to have a dog? After all, The Varsity has a no-pet policy.
The Fair Housing Act requires landlords, homeowners and student housing facilities to accommodate people with disabilities because service and emotional support dogs are not considered your average household pets.
“In cases when a person with a disability uses a service animal or an emotional support animal, a reasonable accommodation may include waiving a no-pet rule or a pet deposit,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s website.
And when a facility waives a no-pet rule or pet deposit for emotional support dogs — like Rowan’s good friend Mikoh — there is no training necessary. That’s because these comfort animals often provide therapy for their owners as a part of a medical treatment plan.
Mikoh is a one-year-old Alaskan Klee Kai and senior mechanical engineering major Fadel’s emotional support dog.
“He has a great temperament but is very protective of me,” Fadel, who also lives at The Varsity, said.
Mikoh’s day often includes visiting Posey after her classes so the two furry canines can exercise and play.
Posey has Rowan follow a strict schedule that details when he can play and when he has to work. This means Posey’s peers does not spend much recreational time with him. But it’s for good reason.
“Friends will pet him after asking permission, but they rarely play with him,” Posey said. That’s because Rowan must exert a lot of energy throughout the day so he can sit quietly in her classes, she added.
“If he is antsy or bored he could possibly become a distraction, even though he is trained not to,” she said.
Posey advises people not to pet or whistle at service dogs because it interferes with his instruction. Clearly, as Posey mentioned, living with a dog is not all fun and games; there’s a lot of responsibility.
Based on Posey’s experience, a dog is a companion that will love you unconditionally. However, considering owning a pet is a long-term commitment, she warns students who want dogs to think twice before of they secure future plans for life after college.
“I worked in rescue for a little while and saw many unwanted dogs returned, which is the saddest thing ever,” Posey said. “If you are seriously considering getting a dog, you should adopt because (millions of) dogs are euthanized each year in the U.S. alone.”