Service dogs assist students, faculty

Before leaving the house, a vest is clipped at the chest to illustrate protection and jurisdiction. Upon arriving to campus, four paws and a wagging tail step out of the car, ready to work as a certified service dog.

Brynn Castro | The Houstonian

Brynn Castro | The Houstonian


Associate Professor of Special Education, Nancy Stockall, Ph.D., obtained her service dog, Inga, seven years ago after doctors couldn’t diagnose what was causing her blood pressure to suddenly drop, which would make her pass out at random.

“I couldn’t drive a car, I couldn’t teach, I couldn’t do certain things because I never knew when this was going to happen, so I started looking into getting a service dog,” Stockall said. “She was trained as an alert dog, so when she sensed that something was wrong with me, she would start barking at me.”

When Inga barks, Stockall knows to sit down, which allows her blood pressure to raise again, thus protecting her from any dangerous situations. Eventually, Stockall was prescribed medication which alleviates her condition, but that wasn’t always the case.

“She went with me everywhere,” Stockall said. “She went with me on the airplane and in the car with me, to restaurants, to any public place I needed to go.”

Service dogs are protected under several federal laws including The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prevents dogs and their owners from being discriminated against.

In one instance, shortly after her training with Inga began, Stockall said she was violated of those rights.

“I was in a mall once; I was very nervous about my own disability and disclosing it, and I’m a shy person, so when you walk into a room with a dog, everybody looks at you,” Stockall said. “The security guard came up to me and said I had to leave, and I said, ‘Well I have a disability, she’s my trained service dog, I’m protected by the laws’ and he said, ‘We don’t care. You have to leave.’”
Almost six years later, Stockall said that she wouldn’t react the same way today.

“I was really upset and nervous, and embarrassed, too, so I let it go,” Stockall said. “But now, if somebody said something, I would say, ‘No, we’re staying’ and if they called the police then I would talk to the police but I wouldn’t leave like I did before.”

Now that Stockall has medication, she doesn’t rely on Inga the same way she did before but still brings her to class, where she teaches Special Education, in order to keep her trained.

“I bring her to class so she’s used to the students, [that way] I can teach and she doesn’t get nervous,” Stockall said. “She’s here probably once every two or three weeks.”

Senior psychology major Robert Ferguson, however, brings his new service dog, Schatzi, to campus with him daily to help his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Without her I wouldn’t be able to sleep,” Ferguson said. “My appetite sucks, my drinking was more just because [I was] self-medicating because the drugs don’t work when 90 percent of them have side-effects of suicidal thoughts and tendencies.”

According to Ferguson, service dogs comfort their PTSD owners by bringing a sense of home to an otherwise distracted mind.

“They smell the pheromones coming off of you and can feel you getting tense and the dog will nudge you and be like ‘hey, pay attention to me, you’re okay, you’re not where you were, you’re at home and everything is fine, everything is safe,’” Ferguson said.

Schatzi is only 8 months old and currently in the middle of her training, but according to Ferguson, is already providing the care he needs.

“If I wake up in the middle of the night and I feel like something’s off, I’ll tell her to clear the house and she’ll go from room to room to make sure there is nobody in the house that isn’t supposed to be there,” Ferguson said. “If I get uncomfortable talking to somebody, I give her a hand signal or tell her in German to ‘block’ and she’ll sit down between us, that way there is that barrier and I feel a little bit more comfortable.”

Both Ferguson and Stockall agree that while their dogs are working, the biggest distraction can be affection from strangers.

“When a dog has a vest on, ignore the animal,” Ferguson said. “It can really screw up their training because if they get used to everyone coming up and just loving on them all the time, they’re going to want to be loved on all the time and not do their job.”

According to Ferguson, service dogs can alleviate the effects many veterans face after assimilating back into civilian life.

“Let’s face it, any armed service teaches you how to go to war, [but] nobody teaches you how to come home,” Ferguson said.


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