Press "Enter" to skip to content

Dog policies at Mills enforced, therapy animals prevalent on campus

This semester, Mills College has seen an increase in the number of service dogs on campus and in student housing, following a change in the Americans With Disabilities Act in 2009, an act which makes it easier for students to keep animals in their living quarters.  Currently there are seven residents and two commuter service dogs, more than at any time in the past, according to Jess Miller, the Director of the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).
Margo Nitoff takes her dachshunds for a walk around Mills. Photos by Kate Sterns.

According Miller, in 2009, the Department of Justice revised the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), narrowing its definition of what animals could be service animals down to dogs and miniature horses. At the same time, the definition of a “task” which the service animal can perform was broadened.  Previously, a service dog would have been something like the familiar guide dog for the visually impaired, but now a service dog can also perform tasks that serve to alleviate depression or anxiety and remain protected.

“(Following the ADA change), this issue is probably bigger on all campuses,” Miller said.

Mills enacted a Canine Policy  in 2001 that covers all dogs on campus except service dogs.The policy requires that dogs have current rabies and distemper vaccinations as well as a current city licenses, just like service dogs. It also stipulates that dogs must be on-leash at all times, and owners/handlers must carry dog waste off-campus for disposal. Dogs may not be tied to any object on campus or left in parked cars. There is also a $50 per dog annual fee to bring non-service dogs onto the Mills campus.

According to Niveice Robinson, Assistant Director of Public Safety, the non-service dog policy was instituted in 2001 after canines on campus became a problem. Professional dog walkers and trainers were coming on campus on the weekends and using it as a place to run their businesses, Mills was not being reimbursed for grounds maintenance or waste pickup, which became an increasing problem as more and more dogs came on campus.

“We have quail, deer and ducks on campus as well as raccoons, which might carry rabies, and having dogs running at large put both them and Mills’ wildlife at risk,” Robinson said.

In addition, according to Robinson, Mills was becoming a repository for stray animals abandoned by their owners. Stray dogs would either turn up on campus or be dropped off with no way to tell if they had current vaccinations.
“We had a groundskeeper get bitten by a dog and no one could verify if it had had its shots, and that was a big problem” Robinson said.

Margo Nitoff, who has been walking her Dachshunds on the Mills campus since 1986, remembers the stray dogs that used to run loose on campus, including the one that bit the groundskeeper. Nitoff pays a total $100 a year for the privilege of walking her current pair, Amber and Schatzie, but she says it is worth it.
“It’s better than walking the streets,” Nitoff said.
Despite the fees, she feels that the Mills campus is better and safer since the implementation of the dog policy.

“They want to make sure they have all their shots” she said, which she sees as a good thing.

Although service dog owners are not required to pay a fee, the animals are subject to the same restrictions regarding leashes and vaccinations. Service dogs, however, play a more active role in assisting their owners. Service dogs are not to be confused with therapy dogs, Miller said.

“Therapy dogs — or any animal —  go to places like convalescent hospitals. They are docile and used to being handled by lots of people and are petted and held to provide sensory therapy,” Miller said.

Miller also said that students who have service dogs must have a diagnosis of a mental or physical health issue which can be corroborated by a medical or mental health professional, who then makes a recommendation for accommodation to SSD. It can be any diagnosable disability and does not need to be readily apparent. These policies apply, at present, only to dogs on the Mills campus, as no student has yet had a service miniature horse.

Therapy dog Luna takes a stroll around Mills campus.Like all dogs on campus, the service dogs must have current city licenses, rabies and distemper shots. Owners/handlers living in on-campus housing must also sign a residency contract for dogs living on campus covering damage, waste disposal and noise issues. Students with therapy dogs on campus, however, do not need to pay the $50 fee.

Service dogs on campus must wear badges from Public Safety and SSD at all times.Students are permitted to approach and pet service dogs only after asking permission from the handler, but there are no other restrictions, Miller said.

“It is important to recognize that people with service dogs may not have a readily apparent disability” Miller said, citing the traditional view of a guide dog for the blind. “Students and faculty should assume that, if a dog has tags from SSD and Public Safety,then it is a legitimate service animal and it and its handler should be treated with respect.”

Angelina Austin, a second-semester junior, has lived with her service dog, a rat terrier named Luna, in both Ege Hall and the Courtyard Town Houses.

“Even though terriers are generally more vocal, we did a lot of training with Luna when she was a puppy and I’ve never had any complaints” Austin said. “Having Luna has made a real change in my life.”