If it is not already obvious that dogs are very popular, take into consideration that, according to servicedogcentral.org there are an estimated 70 to 80 million dogs owned in the U.S.
Jacksonville University’s veteran presence on campus is due to the fact that the university is a Yellow Ribbon school; meaning tuition is covered for veterans.
Carlos Henriquez heard about the program from an admissions counselor at The Players Championship Veterans Tent during the career fair earlier this year.
“It’s opening up my horizon again on civilian life, how the business world works, dealing with younger people, their thoughts and how they view society,” said Henriquez. “I’m learning how to interact with other people and it is helping my transition out from the military.”
JU also offers the Defender’s Den, which is a designated area for veterans to come study, relax or eat lunch.
Along with the veteran presence on campus is the presence of service dogs. The down side to this is few people understand what exactly they do and how they do it.
According to servicedogcentral.org, training a dog can take approximately 18 to 24 months. The dogs are taught manners, obedience and task training. The training teaches the dogs how to act in most situations they will be faced with, and also is specific to the disability their owner possesses.
Stephen Eager, veteran and student attending JU, has a service dog who was trained to assist him with his post-traumatic stress disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health explains this is a disorder where people who have experienced a traumatizing event experience that feeling of stress or being frightened when they are not actually in danger. His dog, Moose, was specifically trained to assist Eager with several different tasks.
“He blocks for me,” said Eager. “What that means is in crowds, he can block others from coming up on me and can act as a barrier. He calms me down during stressful times and can sense panic attacks before they happen. He is also trained in medication reminding and retrieving.”
Dogs for other disorders are trained for those specific needs. There is a wide variety of service dogs, such as guide dogs, seizure alert/response dogs and autism dogs. There are even diabetic service dogs who are able to smell the sugar levels on their handler and recognize when these levels change and become threatening.
One problem Eager says that him, and others, sometimes struggle with is being able to bring his dog certain places. Eager explained this is due to the lack of knowledge of the federal law regarding service animals.
“Service dogs can go virtually anywhere their handler goes including all public and even private spaces,” said Eager.
Some dogs are not affected as much, or at all, by interaction with other people. Many service dogs, however, are affected by it.
Mike Mitchell, the veterans student coordinator at JU, understands that it can be tempting to pet a dog, but it is important to be respectful and aware.
“By law, all service dogs have to have something on them stating they’re a working dog,” said Mitchell. “That awareness is important, but if you’re not sure, just ask.”
Eager also made it clear that in the end, it is best to not go up and pet or play with a service dog, since it can distract the dog from doing its job. If a person really wants to pet the dog, then permission needs to have been given by the owner first.
“My dog is a PTSD dog and loves attention and making people feel better,” said Eager. “I don’t normally have a problem with people asking to pet him, but everyone should be very careful as to not interact with someone’s service dog.”