Caring for canines on campus

Owner Bethany Van Baak posing for a photo on the beach with her shih tzu Sebastian.

Victoria Zielinski | Asst. Opinion Editor | The USD Vista

A quick stroll down the University of San Diego’s main campus is bound to provide several sightings of fuzzy, four-legged friends and crowds of happy students around them. Whether it be a service dog, emotional support animal, or simply a companion dog, students enjoy sharing USD’s campus with all dogs.

Many Toreros balance being full-time students and pet owners. USD has specific policies on pets that owners must be aware of when bringing their dogs to campus.

Junior Rachel Steinberg’s service dog, Simba, is a Labrador retriever and Carolina mix, and lives with her on campus in Manchester Village.

“Having a service dog on campus means having a highly trained dog that is capable of mitigating your disabilities, be it physical or psychiatric,” Steinberg said. “Service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and because of this they are seen as medical equipment and can accompany a handler anywhere.”

Steinberg described the challenges of living with her dog on campus.

“You not only have to provide and care about your own needs, you need to keep the dog’s needs in mind at all times as well,” Steinberg said. “Meaning no spontaneous weekend trips unless they are pet-friendly or you have someone to care for the animal while you are gone. Personally, I send my pup to doggy day care if it’s a day when I am unable to focus on him or give him the attention and care he needs, or I have family watch him.”

Steinberg stated that she wants to spread awareness that having a service dog is not an excuse for people to take their pets everywhere they go.

“Having to take a service dog with you is not glamorous, it’s a medical necessity,” Steinberg said. “People generally know that he [Simba] is a service dog and know either to not bother us or to ask to pet him. But people get excited when they see him off-vest as he is very friendly and loves people!”

Sophomore Bethany Van Baak also has a service animal, a seven-year-old Havanese named Sebastian.

Sebastian accompanies Van Baak almost every day while she attends class. But there are certain circumstances in which he can’t tag along, such as her science lab, where dogs could potentially be exposed to dangerous hazards and chemicals. When she does have to leave Sebastian behind it requires additional planning.

“I don’t have to leave him alone very often, but when I do leave him alone, my roommates help out,” Van Baak said. “If I’m ever told I cannot have my dog on campus, I inform them that my dog is a service animal.”

According to USD Policy 2.11.1, the school prohibits pets in all buildings, residence halls, athletic fields, outside dining areas, or any other facilities that are affiliated with the university. Service dogs are exempt from these rules, and while emotional support dogs are allowed in residence halls with proper documentation, they cannot go everywhere that service dogs are allowed. Service dogs are trained to perform a medical disability related task, while emotional support dogs help to alleviate stress by being in the presence of their owner.

Dogs who are not registered as service or emotional support dogs are permitted on campus roads and outdoor grounds, but they must be leashed and under control of their owner at all times. Failure to follow these rules could result in removal of the dog and disciplinary action from the university.

A playful Ollie runs back to his owner after fetching his ball.

Van Baak believes that campus leash requirements are fair.

“The rules make everything run smoother, especially if dogs interact on campus, and people generally react with lots of smiles,” Van Baak said.

Sophomore Darlene Ngo’s dog is a small black cockapoo named Harvey. Harvey is an emotional support animal, and he lives in on-campus housing with Ngo.

As an emotional support dog, Harvey is allowed in outdoor spaces and in Ngo’s residence hall, but he cannot visit shared spaces like lounges, classrooms, and study rooms.

“I have to leave Harvey at home when I go to class, because he’s not allowed in buildings or classrooms,” Ngo said. “I think it makes the whole ‘emotional support’ part a lot less effective if I can only see him early in the morning and at night when I get home from class.”

Ngo explained the challenges of having a dog and being a full-time student.

“Harvey is still a puppy, so it’s been extremely difficult, especially with sleep,” Ngo said. “The first month I had to wake up at three in the morning every day to let him out. I’ve also been having to run back to the Vistas in between classes to let him go potty.”

Ngo also takes Harvey to training once every two weeks, buys groceries for him, takes him to veterinary appointments, and gets him groomed.

“It’s a lot to handle,” Ngo said. “I’ve been really lucky to have a strong support system of friends who can watch him when I need to do something important, but other than that I’m on my own.”

Ngo expressed that she wishes the school would be more lenient with their policy on animals.

“I would hope that ESAs [emotional service animals] that can pass the Good Canine Citizen Test can come to classes with their handlers,” Ngo said. “That would be such a tremendous help for me and my stress, dealing with running back and forth.”

The Good Canine Citizen Test is a ten-step program administered by the American Kennel Club in which dogs must complete a series of tasks such as accepting a friendly stranger and coming when called.

Junior Mitch Williams shares the responsibility of a dog with his roommates who live off campus. Mica, a Terrier mix, was rescued when she was just a puppy and was recently registered as an emotional support dog.

“I bring Mica to campus a few times a month,” Williams said. “Balancing school and being a dog owner is pretty easy since Mica is a really great study buddy — she just sleeps on me while I do my homework.”

So far, Williams hasn’t run into any issues with bringing Mica onto campus.

“I mainly bring her to outside seating areas like La Paloma or near Olin Hall,” Williams said. “I’ve never been told that I can’t bring her on campus, but she is an emotional support dog so that would help if I was questioned.”

Senior Rachel Robinson rescued her 14-month-old golden retriever Ollie from the Southern California Golden Retriever Rescue.

Robinson shared that while having a dog in college can be rewarding, it takes some adjustment.

“My parents weren’t thrilled about it at first,” Robinson said. “Ollie is still a puppy and a naturally very high-energy dog. We spend a lot of time walking and training to keep his mind busy, so when I do have to leave for class he is tuckered out and will just nap until I come home.”

Although taking care of Ollie works for Robinson because of her previous experience with animals at home, she didn’t encourage most college students to have a dog.

“When the rest of a student’s normal life is already so busy, the dog has to be the priority,” Robinson said. “Ollie and I usually just walk around campus on a leash because he is super excitable and loves to run up to anyone and everyone.”

As far as USD’s pet policy, Robinson does not see a need for it to change at this point in time.

“I know there are students who don’t like dogs or are allergic, so I think it’s important to respect those people since Ollie isn’t doing me any service,” Robinson said. “I don’t try to take him into buildings or anything because he is not a service dog. He’s too rowdy — and weighs 75 pounds — to bring inconspicuously into class.”

Senior Matt Stockton’s dog Knox is a half-German shepherd, quarter-pitbull, and quarter-corgi mix. Stockton brings Knox to class with him three days a week, and shared that it takes him longer to get out of the house on those days.

“I can’t be rushing out of the house because I need to feed him and make sure I’ve packed his food and other items for the day,” Stockton said. “Because I try to spend as much time with Knox as possible, I often have to sacrifice my free time to take him on hikes and keep him busy. I am no longer accountable for just myself, but for another life as well.”

Stockton stated that he tries to keep Knox outside of buildings as much as possible when he’s on campus.

“I usually only go inside with him when I have class,” Stockton said. “He is very calm when I’m in class, so there haven’t really been any issues yet. I’m also assuming that he’s not allowed inside the Immaculata, but I usually keep him home on Sunday mornings.”

Being able to take care of Knox has been a positive experience for Stockton, who wasn’t allowed to have a dog in the house growing up.

“I can honestly say that having Knox has really changed the dynamic of my life and I couldn’t be more excited to experience him grow up,” Stockton said.

USD students with dogs seemed to agree that while caring for their dogs is a lot of work, the rewards are worth it. Although USD’s policy on dogs isn’t lenient, students still enjoy the company of canines.