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Home Arts & Culture Service Animals Play Important Roles in the Lives of Students

Photo Courtesy of Corey Gray

By Benjamin Gordon


Concordia has many opportunites for canine involvement with students on campus. Several service dogs currently call Concordia’s campus their home.

The three main types of dogs that can be seen on campus are comfort, service and therapy dogs. The primary differences are that service dogs work to help an owner while therapy and comfort dogs provide emotional support. All three types of dogs, according to Director of Career Development Corey Gray, a comfort dog handler, receive a variety of training, but service dogs receive the most.

“A service dog is not a pet,” Gray said. “Its purpose is with that one individual; a therapy dog is used in situations on individuals [and] a comfort dog is for everybody at all times.”

Nicodemus, or “Nico” for short, is a comfort dog in the community that Gray brings to Concordia. Nico can generally be seen around campus on Fridays as well as during events like Project Pumpkin and Pet Therapy.

“I bring him here every Friday, he spends the day with me, he goes to class with me when I teach … and his job is to stay here and provide love and comfort,” Gray said.

Nico is a highly trained golden retriever who received 2,000 hours of training before meeting Gray and knows around 40 commands. Nico has nine handlers and serves, besides Concordia students, veterans, among others.

Service dogs are rather different from comfort dogs. Service dogs are connected to a single person and generally stay at that person’s residence, whether that is in the dormitories or off campus. Generally, service dogs help their owners in some way with a disability.

One example of a service dog on campus is sophomore Josef Stevens’ service dog, Marvel. Stevens first met Marvel when Domesti-PUPS came to find a place to put the service dog. Stevens is allowed to keep Marvel in his dorm so Marvel can help any time a need arises.  One of the ways Marvel helps Stevens is by ringing a bell to alert people when Stevens is having a seizure. Stevens and Marvel do continuous training to ensure Marvel’s skills are staying in shape.

Some basic service dog etiquette is to ask the owner before interacting with or petting the dog. For instance, Stevens has people ask before petting Marvel as it can distract the dog from its job. It is important to ask the owner of a service dog if there are any rules before interacting with or petting it.

In one way comfort and service dogs are the same: generally, they have a vest that indicates whether it is working or not. If the vest is on, they are working and if the vest is off, they are not.

“If they are in a vest they are supposed to be on a very specific set of behaviors and set a very specific example,” Gray said. “When they’re out of the vest most of them are knuckleheads.”

It is still important to ask a service dog’s owner for any rules before petting or interacting with the service dog regardless of whether the vest is on or off.

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