Lean on me: Animals supporting their owners

Hanna and her service dog, Butch, an English Bulldog
| Photo credit: Hanna Antonides

It’s not often you see someone walk their dog on school grounds, yet at Florida A&M University, Hanna Antonides walks her English bulldog regularly on campus.

Freshman student Antonides was prescribed her support animal Butch, an English bulldog, when she was 11 years old in middle school due to her anxiety disorder. Her anxiety disorder developed when she made the transition from elementary school to middle school.

“I noticed it develop when I switched from elementary to middle school – going from a class of eight kids to a regular size class,” Antonides said.

Butch is often mistakenly taken for a service animal, but Antonides has confirmed to those that ask that he is actually her support animal.  

Service animals are easily mixed up with support animals; according to ADA National Network’s article “Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals,” service animals mean “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

Whereas, an ESA (Emotional Support Animal) is defined as “an animal that, by its very presence, mitigates the emotional or psychological symptoms associated with a handler’s condition or disorder.  The animal does NOT need to be trained to perform a disability – specific task” (excerpt from National Service Animal Registry’s article “The difference between a Service Animal and an Emotional Support…”).

“My dog isn’t trained to perform certain tasks to assist me, but instead relieves the symptoms of my anxiety simply through his presence,” Antonides said.

For the last seven years, Butch has helped calm Antonides during her episodes.

Antonides went through CeDAR (Center for Disability Access and Resources) for the process of getting her support animal to be requested and approved. CeDAR plays a huge role in regulating what students can and cannot have on campus.

Desmond Hodge, a licensed school psychologist at FAMU, who works in the department of CeDAR, said students wanting a support or service animal on campus must go through the procedure of providing vetting documentation from qualified professionals (including psychologists, physicians, etc.).  

After the documentation is checked for accuracies, it only takes a few weeks for the student to be approved.

“It was approved in approximately a month.  I was called and told that it was accepted during orientation,” Antonides said.

To Hodges knowledge, only a few students on campus have requested and been approved for service animals and surmises that more students do not go through the vetting process because they either cannot provide the required documents or do not want to be tied with the stigma of being “mentally unstable.”

“They don’t want to self-disclose their issues,” Hodges said. “Everything we do have to be self-disclose, everything we do with individuals.”

Justice Powell, a fourth-year business of industry student, and Rodney Sturgis, a first-year social work student, both agreed that students should be able to have service and support animals on campus and would feel no discomfort to those who own them.

Powell said that if the animal is “well trained” and “not creating issues for anyone or not disturbing anything,” then there should not be a problem with service and support animals on campus.

“I feel that they should be allowed to do a free range of things,” Sturgis said.

Sturgis knows a person with a service animal that he said greatly assists him throughout the person’s day. The person Sturgis referred to is blind and for five years has had a German Shepherd guide him throughout his daily activities.

Antonides does not take Butch to class, but she does walk him around campus where she receives a mix of reactions from bystanders.  Students will either make comments, ignore her and Butch completely, or ask for permission to pet her him (out of the three, the latter usually wins out and she lets students pet him).  

Antonides has heard that some students are scared of Butch because of his wide appearance, but reassures that he poses no threat.

No recent anxiety attacks have surfaced for Antonides as she continues to become more immersed into FAMU’s college lifestyle.