UB student discusses struggles and benefits of having a service dog
Akansha Kataria was prohibited from getting on the Stampede bus with her service dog three times.
Kataria, a junior health and human services major, said she was accused of lying about having a service dog, Bonzo, several times by Stampede drivers.
“They were like ‘no you’re lying, this is not a service dog,’” Kataria said, “I was asked to get off the bus in front of so many students, not just once, but multiple times. I shouldn’t have to feel different from these kids.”
Kataria reported these incidents to Chris Austin, assistant director of transportation, via email. Austin apologized and promptly reminded all Stampede and shuttle drivers that service dogs are permitted to accompany those they support on campus transit, according to Kataria. New York State law does not require documentation for service animals.
Some people may not know the purpose of service dogs.
Kataria has struggled with anxiety all her life, but about two months ago, she started having severe panic attacks that interfered with her daily life. She began experiencing anxiety- induced seizures. Her doctor and counselor recommended getting a service dog to help her cope with these worsening symptoms.
“I used to be up until 4 a.m., just anxious, going crazy and I would literally have panic attacks every day. But since I’ve had him, they are so much less,” Kataria said.
Kataria adopted a puppy per her treatment team’s recommendation. Her Yorkipoo – combination of a Yorkshire Terrier and a poodle – is now her service dog.
The United States Dog Registry defines three sorts of dogs: service dogs, emotional support dogs and therapy dogs. A service dog will help with performing basic functions for those who have a disability, like blindness while a therapy dog will provide affection and comfort to individuals in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities.
In 2012, there were approximately 20,000 service dogs in the U.S., according to the American Humane Association.
Kataria said she thinks people assume that because the dog helps her with anxiety, he is just a therapy dog. But her dog is officially recognized as a service dog so she can bring him everywhere.
“Instead of being like ‘oh, she has such a cute puppy,’ people will be like, ‘is she crazy? What does she have?’” Kataria said. “Anyone who has a mental disability, they try to hide that side of themselves from people. Like, why would I put him in a vest? It would be like saying, ‘hey, I’m messed up and here’s proof.’”
Therapy animals do not legally qualify as service animals and therefore aren’t allowed in many public places without documentation. However, Kataria said her dog provides support for both anxiety and seizures and is therefore considered a service dog. She said by being honest about her seizures, she hopes there will be less resistance to bringing her dog to public spaces.
Kataria said she has also been approached about Bonzo at the Silverman Library in Capen Hall.
“There was this lady who worked there and she was like ‘you can’t bring him in unless you have proof he’s a service animal.’ I don’t carry paperwork on me, that’s not something I should have to do,” Kataria said.
Kataria said Bonzo has “100 percent” helped her anxiety. She said Bonzo can tell when she’s upset and will try to comfort her.
“It’s like he knows when something’s wrong,” she said. “Like, when I’m upset or just when I’m not feeling good, I don’t know how, but he just senses it,” Kataria said. “He’ll come snuggle up with me or if I’m trying to push him away, he’ll come sit in my lap and try to do whatever he can to make me feel better.”
Kataria said her dog has been comforting for others as well.
“Sometimes I’ll take him to the library and kids will literally group up and be like ‘oh my god this is exactly what I needed today,’” she said.
Laura Obernesser, Kataria’s Sociology of Diversity instructor, is supportive of the service dog. She asked Obernesser if it was OK to have the dog on the first day of class and Obernesser was “really, really nice about it,” she said.
“We should allow students to have a service dog because it’s important to take into account the different needs of different students,” Obernesser said. “She asked me if she could bring her dog to class and I was very open to it, but she was very mature in how she asked.”
Kataria leaves at least an hour before her classes start to allow plenty of time for people to play with her dog. She doesn’t mind leaving early because Bonzo makes everyone happy.
People often tell her that seeing Bonzo is the highlight of their day.
“That just makes me feel really good. This is not just for me, it’s for everyone,” Kataria said.
Kataria said she doesn’t like to put Bonzo in a service dog vest because people will look at her differently, but she wants students to understand what emotional therapy dogs are for.
“It’s not just like he can help me when I want and then when I want to go out I’ll make him stay at home and just sit in his crate and cry. That’s not fair,” Kataria said. “So like, I want to be able to take him everywhere because I don’t know where I’m going to have a panic attack. It can happen in a restaurant, it can happen in a Starbucks, it can happen anywhere.”
Maddy Fowler is a staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org