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Working Dogs

October 10, 2022
woman with yellow Labrador retriever
Alumna Shelby Kappler with her service dog, Olana. Kappler works at UW’s Wyoming Institute for Disabilities. (Photo by Anonym, Inc.)

Meet two service dogs who are regulars on the UW campus.

 

By Micaela Myers 

There are more than 500,000 service dogs currently working in the United States, including several on the University of Wyoming Laramie campus. These dogs are trained to do specific tasks for people with disabilities. Through their hard work, service dogs help give their handlers increased independence, comfort and safety. Here we introduce you to two service dogs and their handlers. 

Shelby and Olana

Shelby Kappler graduated from UW in 2018 with degrees in international studies and Spanish, as well as minors in disability studies and anthropology. She now works at UW as an assistive technology program specialist at the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities, helping connect Wyoming students with print disabilities to alternative-format materials.

“I have a visual impairment myself,” Kappler says. “Olana is my guide dog. She is a 6-year-old yellow lab. She was raised and trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York, and we graduated training as a guide dog team in 2018. Many service dog organizations and trainers charge thousands of dollars for a fully trained dog. However, there are several guide dog organizations that offer their dogs completely free to eligible individuals. Guiding Eyes is a nonprofit and almost entirely donation-based. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with this organization and such an incredible dog.”

Olana is loving and caring, with a goofy playful side when she’s not working.

Kappler explains that people with visual impairments often choose between using a white cane or a guide dog.

“Having a dog, I think I’m much more approachable, but it’s still a symbol I have an impairment,” Kappler says. “She’s often a conversation starter. Olana has helped me immensely with my confidence and being able to go out and do things independently. I wanted to hide behind a cane, and I don’t with Olana. That’s been very helpful and powerful for me.”

Olana came with a solid set of skills but has also learned new things, such as the dangers of ice.

“She is trained for intelligent disobedience,” Kappler says. “So if I give her a command to go forward, and there’s an obstacle in the way, she will refuse the command. One thing they don’t teach them in class but Olana has picked up on is that ice is slippery. So when I walk to and from work in the winter, she’ll stop and let me know if there’s ice.”

woman with a black and white dog wearing a service vest
Alumna Paulina Gurevich with her service dog, Alaska. Gurevich plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Paulina and Alaska

Paulina Gurevich graduated from UW in 2020 with degrees in sociology and honors. She now works in Laramie and plays the French horn in UW’s symphony orchestra. Alaska, a 3-year-old Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, accompanies her as her service dog.

“I have a psychiatric disability and a seizure disorder,” Gurevich says. “Alaska does seizure alert and response and anxiety alert/behavior interruption. She also does deep pressure stimulation, and she’s in training now to do light guide work.”

Like Olana, Alaska knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play.

“She has an on and off switch,” Gurevich says. “At home she’s super goofy. When she’s working she’s very serious, calm and well-behaved.”

Gurevich wrote her honors capstone on housing discrimination. She wants the public to know that pretending a pet dog is a service animal or bringing pets where they are not allowed can be dangerous to those with service animals. And while you can’t touch or distract a service dog without permission, it is OK to ask to pet them. 

“She’s a fantastic companion,” Gurevich says. “She’s also very reliable, which helps mitigate my disability and keeps me functioning day to day.” 

Service Dog Facts

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Service animals are working animals, not pets, and are allowed to accompany their person almost anywhere they need to go.

Service dogs do not need to wear an identifying vest or be registered. Staff in public places may only ask two questions: Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task. See beta.ada.gov/topics/service-animals for complete guidelines.

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