The Union Working Dogs – Cardinal & Cream
During my first few days at Union, in the rush of welcoming week and moving in, I noticed something: other than the sea of new faces, I noticed a lot of dogs among the students at first year. Small dogs, small dogs and fluffy dogs, but all sporting blue and red vests.
I immediately thought of my own dog at home. As much as I love my dog, the dogs I met during foster week are doing jobs that my own pets will probably never do.
For many Union University students, a service dog is essential not only to their college experience, but also to their daily lives. Service dogs can retrieve vital medication for their handler, remind their owners to breathe in times of anxiety or medical alert.
One of the first service dogs I met on campus was Ellie Mae. Her manager, junior major in communications, Kaylee Johnson relies on Ellie Mae to alert her to crises and get help when needed.
The first thing I noticed about Ellie Mae was her height. Gray and white Shizue, Ellie Mae stands only inches off the ground. However, his stature does not prevent him from doing his job. Even as Johnson and I talked, Ellie remained alert, standing proud in her purple vest.
“The Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he gave her to me because a very, very small percentage of service dogs can sense seizures…the Lord knew Ellie was going to have this gift.”
Ellie Mae’s size also made it easy for Johnson to travel knowing her dog could easily slip into a car or under the seat of an airplane and still alert Johnson of an impending crisis.
Along with fulfilling her daily duties, Ellie has also sparked conversations where Johnson is able to share her faith.
“When I went to Utah, I was able to go to areas of the temple plaza where it’s more like special areas for their religion where pets wouldn’t be allowed at all,” Johnson said. “There have been many times in situations like this where people have asked about Ellie, and it has led to conversations about the gospel.”
Along with Ellie Mae, another wonderful service dog seen walking the halls of PAC is Milo, a red golden mini doodle. Often seen sporting a variety of bandanas around his neck and little black boots on his paws, Milo serves as a medical alert and intervention dog for his master, psychology student Abbey Blake.
Before Milo, Blake depended on others for his safety and transportation.
“I couldn’t go anywhere without a relative or friend, because what if I’m driving and can’t get home,” Blake said.
Milo gave Blake confidence, independence and peace of mind knowing his dog can alert him to an impending medical emergency.
“I can go to Target, I can go to Kroger, I can drive to Memphis and go to the zoo for the day because if something happens I can get to safety,” Blake said.
Blake described the Union community as generally welcoming and accommodating of Milo. Students are often curious about his dog and respectful when asking questions.
“Some people, I just think they see a service dog and say ‘well, that person has a disability’ and like they don’t really want to interact with you,” Blake said. “But I think the Union student body is so much more open and inclusive in so many ways.”
While the Union student body helps create a welcoming environment for service dogs, administrative teachers like Disability Office Coordinator Esperanza Gonzalez work hard to ensure that service dogs are registered by through the disability office and that accommodations are made for them.
Gonzalez ensures that all service animals are ADA certified and that their handlers have proper medical documentation. She encourages students to communicate with their teachers about their service dogs so that the Union can maintain an accommodating environment for students with disabilities and service animals.
“Communication is the basic and most basic thing for students to do,” Gonzalez said.
If you visit the Union campus, Buster might not be the only dog you see. While it’s exciting to spot a dog in the middle of your Comp I class, these dogs serve a purpose beyond being cute and well-behaved. Service dogs go through life with their handlers so that their handlers can live life to the fullest.
Photo by Laila Al-Hagal