An Iraqi veteran is accusing Texas State of implementing an illegal policy after an event regarding his service dog happened earlier this year.
Jeremy Kennard, social work senior, contacted a lawyer when he discovered the university enforced a policy he felt violated the federal American Disability Act.
Kennard entered the classroom of Raphael Travis, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, on the first day of the fall semester with his service dog, Athena. He said Travis asked him to produce paperwork proving Athena was a certified service dog.
Travis said after he requested the dog’s certification, and then Kennard left the class in a “clearly frustrated” manner.
According to the ADA, a person is only allowed to ask someone with a service dog if the animal is a service dog and what it is trained to do, Kennard said.
Travis said he told Kennard he must comply with the university’s policy of providing proof of the dog’s service certification.
He said Kennard attended class the next day, presented the requested paperwork from the Office of Disabilities and apologized for leaving class abruptly during the previous session.
Kennard said Texas State would face a $50,000 fine for its first violation of the law. Every violation after that would be double the previous cost.
“It’s not about me,” Kennard said. “It’s about a policy that needs to be changed.”
Kennard does not intend to pursue the issue in court.
“It’s not (Travis’) fault. He didn’t know,” Kennard said. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”
Travis said there have been students with service dogs in his classroom before the policy of asking for documentation was implemented. He has never had to ask for proof that a dog was a service animal in the past.
“(Faculty and staff), were instructed by Texas State just recently this year that anyone who has a service animal needs to provide paperwork in order to keep it in the class,” Travis said.
Kennard said Texas State installed the policy during the summer, despite the fact that it is in violation of federal law.
“The Office of Disabilities encourages every student to register the use of their service animals in order for our staff to provide them with appropriate assistance,” said Clint-Michael Reneau, director of Disability Services.
Reneau said registration is not required and that he is aware of the ADA law stating only two questions can be asked of a person with a service animal.
“If I ask you for your documentation for a service dog, I am asking you for your medical records,” Kennard said. “How would you feel about that?”
Kennard said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He obtained Athena four years ago.
While Athena was certified by the school that trained her, there is no standard certification required for service dogs, he said.
“You can get a paper,” Kennard said. “But it doesn’t mean anything. Even the vest (signaling the animal’s service status) means nothing.”
Kennard went to the Office of Disabilities to tell the employees what happened.
“The guy told me he understood,” Kennard said. “He asked me the two questions and registered my dog with the university.”
He said requiring students to register their dog with the university is also a violation of the ADA.
The veteran contacted a lawyer about the situation he experienced in Travis’ class. Kennard said the lawyer called the university and informed them their policy was breaking the law.
Kennard said he has had similar experiences in the past because most people are unaware of the ADA’s law and do not believe he has a disability, judging by his physical appearance.
“I love this university,” Kennard said. “I didn’t want to make waves. I just wanted to have the policy changed.”
Kennard said the Office of Disabilities is currently reviewing the policy. He said he hopes a change will be made and that he understands the process could take time.
The veteran said he informed the University Police Department about the problem and they will now escort him to class.
The Office of Disabilities has outreach programs to educate students and faculty about service animals and procedures associated with them, Reneau said.
“Certainly, one of the things we are going to focus on in terms of outreach this semester will be working with service animals to ensure student’s success,” Reneau said.
Kennard said Athena is a medical alert dog and is able to sense his emotions. The dog is trained to distract Kennard if he becomes angry or stressed.
“Before Athena I couldn’t leave the house alone,” Kennard said. “I couldn’t stand in line at the grocery store.”
Athena serves as a buffer between him and other people so he has enough space to feel comfortable. Similarly, Kennard wants the buffer between him and everyone else to go away through more education on veteran issues.
“Every time (stories like this) hit the news, people get more educated,” Kennard said. “I don’t want the attention. I don’t want to come off as a whiny vet. I’m just looking for people to become educated.”