Senior Katrina White was frustrated when she received an email on Flunk Day, April 30, from the Director of Disability Services Stephanie Grimes reminding Emotional Support Animal (ESA) handlers that their animals are not allowed in on-campus buildings other than their designated residence halls. The email left White and other ESA handlers concerned that Knox’s ESA policy is too restrictive for dog ownership on campus.
Grimes’ email told ESA handlers that a complaint was sent to the Knox County Health Department early Spring Term reporting a dog that had been running around a dining area and jumping on people. Grimes stressed that this is a serious health code violation.
“This violation could also result in a dining service area being shut down,” Grimes said in the email.
The reminder of policy in Grimes’ email stated in bold and underlined text that ESAs “must stay within the assigned room at all times.” Grimes said she sent out the email due to the complaints she received about dogs tied up outside of the Hard Knox Cafe and entering the C-Store, warning that she will have to address any complaints she gets.
White admitted to occasionally bringing her emotional support dog Twinkle into the C-Store and Gizmo after their walks.
“I feel like I should be able to bring my dog, and then get my things and move along,” White said.
In addition, White does not feel like she was doing anything wrong. She was concerned that banning dogs from every building on campus, other than the handler’s residence, would have adverse effects on the dogs.
This is especially true for White as she noticed an influx of puppies on campus over Winter and Spring Terms. Puppies require socialization as they are growing up and White feels that if they are only allowed outside of the living space for walks, they might not get the socialization they need.
White and other ESA handlers have to sign a contract that outlines Knox’s policies and procedures before bringing an animal on campus. The procedures and policies include the rule that ESAs are not allowed in academic buildings or food spaces without permission from Disability Services. Knox holds the right to exclude ESAs if any of the following is true: handlers do not adhere to the policies, the ESA is aggressive, the ESA threatens the health and safety of others or if the ESA is not housebroken.
White signed this contract during her sophomore year but did not bring an animal to campus until her senior year. She wanted to make sure that her dog would be a good fit for dorm life.
In preparation for this shift, White has trained her dog Twinkle to detect signs of distress. Twinkle knows how to calm White down whenever she shows those signs. White feels that some of the dogs that are being brought on campus lack the proper training to give support to their handlers in the same way that Twinkle does.
Sophomore Bennett Van Meter also believes that restricting dogs to their handler’s living space is too strict. When she received the email from Grimes, she was surprised. Her dog, Greta Garbo, is a service animal, giving her a legal right to be in any space, including the Cafe.
Van Meter said there have been times that she left Greta outside of the Cafe because she did not want to cause any trouble by bringing her inside. For her, the amount of physical distance between her and Greta throughout the day is a concern.
“If I really needed her and she’s at home and I’m at the Cafe, instead of just running out into the hallway and having her, I would have to run all the way back to Post, fumble with my keys, and get in,” Van Meter said.
Van Meter could not think of any ESA she knew that would be in a dining area or jump on people. Although she has only been at Knox for two terms, Van Meter has grown accustomed to seeing emotional support dogs sitting outside of the Cafe and cannot recall ever seeing any misbehave.
Van Meter was surprised that what had previously been a loose policy was suddenly being strictly enforced. Even though Greta is a service dog, Van Meter assumed that she got the email because the policy applied to her as well.
Van Meter stressed that whether the dog is an ESA or a service dog, their handler needs their support no matter where they are. She was less concerned with handlers who have their dogs for legitimate reasons and more concerned with those who abuse the ESA policy just to have a dog on campus.
“If you don’t need an ESA dog, then you shouldn’t say that you need the ESA dog, because that’s how things like this happen,” Van Meter said.
Carolyn Ginder, a senior with a service dog named T-Rex, was relieved to see that the ESA policy was being implemented in a strict manner. She felt that the handlers who were tying their dogs outside of the Cafe were acting irresponsibly.
“Leaving a dog tied up outside a cafeteria is particularly bad because you’re leaving them at a very vulnerable place,” Ginder said.
Ginder explained that leaving dogs in this way can be terrifying for them and could result in attacks. She added that there are people on campus with dog allergies and fears of dogs. These factors make it hard for those people to go into the Cafe when there are dogs tied up in the hallway outside.
At the same time, Ginder finds it unethical to leave a dog in a small dorm room for long periods of time, especially if the dog is big. She fears for the safety of some of the dogs on campus, who run around off-leash. Ginder blames most of what she sees as irresponsible behavior on first-time or uninformed dog owners.
“I heard of a lot of people getting puppies. They can’t take care of them, then they go give them to their parents,” Ginder said. “It’s not fair to treat animals like stuffed toys.”
Bennett Van Meter is the business manager for TKS.