dog wearing goggles

Just another day for science support dogs

"Whatever humans need, he'll need." That was the answer Sophie was given when she asked what her registered service dog, Sam, might require when he entered her chemistry lab with her. "He needs protection, just like you. That means goggles, coat, and footwear." That's when she got doggles for Sam, specific protective eyewear for dogs.

“He doesn’t really like the doggles too much, but he tolerates them. The coat and booties are no problem.” And just like that, Sam was introduced to the world of science.

How does Sam help Sophie? He’s her service dog — he knows her emotions and anxiety — knows when to step in and calm her down when things are overwhelming. Sam’s care is her responsibility too — she needs to get out of bed and make sure he’s walked and fed, and in turn, that makes her take care of herself.

Student and her support dog walking in the Science Teaching Complex at Waterloo.

When you have a service dog, who helps you to manage your anxiety, there are plenty of things you need to consider when you come to university. Luckily, for Sophie and Sam, how the university responds to the request of a service dog wasn’t one of them.

“I reached out to the AccessAbility Services office to find out what Sam would need in terms of paperwork and requirements.” Sophie, who’s in the Biomedical Sciences program at Waterloo, recalls the process of ensuring Sam, a white Maltese, would be welcome on campus. “It was surprisingly simple — everyone was really supportive and I ended up in a residence that’s quiet and has extra room for Sam to run around in.”

“I was already anxious about coming to a big campus community — I’m from a small town — so having one less thing to worry about made a huge difference. Everyone has looked at Sam’s presence as natural and with a great deal of support.” And those labs? It turns out Sam enjoys them because they are a chance to doze off. Sophie provides a small bed and he just makes himself at home at her feet while she works on her experiments and reports.

A student and her support dog studying on Waterloo campus.

A dog's take on campus life

How did Sam react to coming to the Waterloo campus in particular? “We’ve had to do some geese training, that’s for sure. The geese back home just fly away, unlike here. So, we’ve worked on how to walk around them and not chase or bark at them.” He also got to participate in the Secret Science Dance, a popular part of orientation. Sophie just strapped him to her chest and the two of them learned a new dance that only Science students know.

He’s also a great icebreaker for Sophie, who is typically shy around new people. Everyone just loves seeing him around campus and he makes everyone else happy — a win-win situation for Sophie and Sam.

“Sam’s helped me transition, that’s for sure. But the school has also been great about it. Accessibility seminars, counselling services, they’re all made available to me. I haven’t needed them yet, but just knowing they exist has been a huge weight off my shoulders.”

Sophie’s ready for her next adventures in science — and Sam and his doggles has made it that much better.