UCF gives service dogs and their handlers the green light to live on campus 

Teacher's Pet

click to enlarge Morgan Bell is training Robin to be a service dog. The two live on campus at UCF.

Photo by Rachel Stuart

Morgan Bell is training Robin to be a service dog. The two live on campus at UCF.

It's not too unusual to see a service dog guiding a student around a college campus, but have you ever seen a service dog living in a college dorm? Probably not, because there aren't very many of them living on campuses now. That could change at the University of Central Florida, which now welcomes both service dogs and service dogs in training to live in dorms with their handlers.

Increasingly, colleges across the country have welcomed service dogs to live on campus, but it was just last year that UCF opened its Lake Claire Community dorms to service dogs.

Of the more than 63,000 students enrolled at UCF, there are only two students living on campus with service dogs now, and sophomore Morgan Bell is currently the only student living on campus with a service dog in training.

The statistics and finance double major is training golden Labrador Robin, and the dog has been by Bell's side everywhere she goes since July 2015. Robin will continue learning from Bell until November of this year.

Bell brings Robin to all of her classes, and although students' eyes tend to gravitate toward the dog in the classroom, Bell said most people respect that when Robin is wearing her vest, she's working.

"I have super high expectations [for her] that I wouldn't have with my pet dog, so I definitely see her as a service dog," Bell says. "When she takes her vest off, she's a regular dog. We go running around the apartment together and have a ball."

With the help of UCF President John Hitt and the nonprofit organization Canine Companions for Independence, a service-dog training and education program (also known as STEP@UCF) was founded on campus, and that's where Bell was able to get her start with service-dog training – something she says she wanted to do to give back to the community.

"It's not a matter of wanting to train a dog," she says. "It's a matter of wanting to help."

Bell eventually become president of the program, and she has since been working to get more students involved. Although Bell is the only student with a service dog in training right now, UCF spokesman Mark Schlueb says UCF is working with Canine Companions for Independence to expand that number.

"We definitely see this as helpful to those in need of service animals, and it's also a great learning opportunity for our students who devote so much time to train and socialize these dogs," Schlueb says.

Two new students, Jennifer Markowitz and Kayla McCauley, will receive a service dog to train this May. The students will take the dog home with them for the summer before moving onto campus in the fall to raise the dog together.

"The timing actually works out well because the pups are 8 weeks old when the students get them and need a lot of attention at that age," Schlueb says.

"While UCF already allowed fully trained and graduated dogs in the dorms, it is a huge step in training service dogs to have them learn and grow up in the dorms," Markowitz says. "Many other college campuses have allowed CCI dogs in dorms and have proven to be successful. I think many other colleges should follow UCF's example."

The students will attend two classes each month to learn Canine Companions for Independence guidelines for training and socializing the dog in a campus setting.

Bell says that UCF's decision to open its campus to service dogs not only benefits those dogs, it makes campus life far more accessible for students who rely on service dogs.

"I think it just makes our campus look way more appealing," Bell says. "I think it's just really beneficial because UCF's one big thing is diversity and inclusion, and I think this is a good way to promote that for people who have a piece of medical equipment that really stands out."

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