Service dogs have become a common sight at Central High School.
This is the first year service animals have been in the Central High School building, yet they have been allowed since 2018. This change has had an unexpected impact on the classroom dynamic.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses have been required to allow service animals since 2010. The policy was adopted August 27, 2018 at all Rapid City Area Schools. The service animal should be on the job once it steps foot into the building and is to ensure the safety of the handler. The animal is required to be under its handler’s control and to perform work or tasks directly related to the individual’s disability.
“The second his collar goes on he’s like ‘I’m working,’” says Charlie, the handler of a dog named Elliot. “It’s like an on-off switch.” While Elliot is still a two-year-old puppy, he takes on many responsibilities. Teachers have commented on the good behavior and training of the dog. He has even been trained to go to the bathroom only before school and during his handler’s lunch. Throughout class, you can probably find Elliot resting under Charlie’s desk, although he knows when to be on alert as well.
“The dog doesn’t distract the students, but it seems like the students can be distracting toward the dog,” says Matt Berg, an art teacher at Central. Charlie confirmed this, saying that her dog gets unwanted attention. Sometimes students see Elliot and want to pet or play with him. This can be problematic, as it is a misdemeanor to distract a service animal.
“When he’s working, I would prefer you not [pet him],” Charlie says. She and administration point out it’s important for students to remember that while service dogs are cute and well-behaved, they’re here to do a job.