Thank you to Ildiko Sandor for contributing this blog post.
Lester is the reason I can go to college. In normal pre-covid times he would go to every class with me, come with me to get food in the dining hall, come with me to club meetings and events, and most importantly playing and cuddling in the dorm. He was a class favorite and I had a lot of people at the end of the semester tell me how much they were going to miss Lester’s quiet snores in class. Also the occasional comic relief that he would give the class in a long lecture if he started letting out little barks in his sleep.
When I decided I was ready to go back to college I talked to the student accessibility office on my campus to get all of my accommodations in line. Not just for having a service dog with me but also extended time on tests and quizzes and so much more. Since I go to a school that is federally funded all they had to do to approve Lester to be with me was ask the two legal questions, is that a service dog required because of a disability and what tasks is the dog trained to do. After that they just needed his vaccination records since he was going to live in a dorm with me and that was it. I was qualified for a medical single because of my C-PTSD which gave more room for Lester and I. He quickly became one of the most popular people in my dorm. The accessibility office helped me write a letter to my teachers letting them know I was going to be in class with a service dog. All of my teachers were super accommodating, even the one teacher with a dog allergy.
Lester helped me get through sitting in a large lecture hall with people behind me. Late night caffeine fueled study sessions in the library, until midnight when the library closed. He helped me navigate campus when I dissociated or was in so much pain I couldn’t walk without assistance and help me deal with the sensory overload that can often happen in the student union or the dining halls. He helped me in so many more ways than I can count.
However, there were drawbacks as you could expect with going to college with a service dog. One of the biggest ones being seven hours away from my community of service dog handlers that I had worked so hard to create and now couldn’t go on outings with them. Another was college students coming up to me 24/7 asking (or sometimes not) to pet him because they miss their dog. There werealso people taking pictures of us when they didn’t have permission too. One time a girl saw me bring Lester to class so she brought her hedgehogs with her to class. Most of all it was the people that saw me with a service dog and would ask me how they can bring their pet with them everywhere and how lucky I was to get to bring him everywhere.
I had to not only care for myself in college but also a dog, which meant grooming, bathroom schedule, and a feeding schedule. I had to schedule my days around when Lester had to eat dinner and sometimes miss out on events because it was a day that was too hard to go without him. However, it was something that wouldn’t be appropriate for me to bring him, like a trampoline park or paddle boarding. Sometimes it isolated me from the group because having a service dog is like having a flashing sign above your head saying you’re disabled. It led to inappropriate questions about my disability and a lot of them because they were just curious college students.
However, just because there were some parts of the college experience I may not get to do. No one really has that picture perfect movie college experience. I would never want that because I get to do college hand in paw with my best friend and lifeline. I wouldn’t want to change that for anything.