So recently (August 10) I was told by a University of Cape Town (UCT) Campus Protection Services (CPS) officer that my Service Dog, who is trained and registered with Guide Dogs South Africa, is not allowed on campus – despite the fact that she has come on to campus consistently since I started studying there in February. What made me particularly angry about this was the guard’s reason for the dog being barred from Campus: she was a dangerous weapon. Yes, that’s right a dangerous weapon. Even more infuriating was that after I tried to explain to him that the dog is not a ‘weapon’ but that, according to him, she would “remain a dangerous weapon until its teeth have been EXTRACTED!
Naturally, within hours I had written e-mails and had phone-calls to CPS Management wanting to lay formal complaints about this Officer and his conduct. My sister also posted a mini FaceBook rant about the incident. Less than 24-hours later it went viral and is still circulating rapidly online (for a link to the original post, click here). Within a few days of this post, UCT responded with a press-release publicly condemning the actions of the Security Officer and that they have spoken to him (click here).
Although I’m glad that the university has taken action, I think now would be a good time as any to point out the importance of Service/Guide Animals -let’s call them ‘Service animals’ for now- to both the individual the animal assists and the wider Disabled, or ‘Differently-abled’, Community as a whole. I know that Jessica Bothma from Varsity Newspaper is writing a piece for the latest issue on this matter so I won’t try to steal her thunder on this but, all the same, I think it needs repeating.
Service animals provide a sense of empowerment to the individuals they aid and, ultimately, allow them a greater sense of independence. Sure, depending on a dog/cat/horse for physical/emotional assistance does not make you fully ‘independent’, but then again who hasn’t depended on other individual for help at some point in their lives, by depending on an animal for a majority of our needs we are able to feel, at the very least more independent from human assistance – which could potentially lead to more discomfort or embarrassment than necessary.
By denying the Service animal, in my case a 5.5-year-old Golden Retriever, onto University/school campuses or other facilities, you are doing more than just telling the person that he/she may not bring an animal with them. Essentially what you, as the hypothetical security guard are doing is belittling another person by denying him/her the independence which you (the stereotypical example of an able-bodied community) take for granted. Yes I, a representative of the Differently-abled Community, might have a similar independence to you but what you must remember is that I might express my independence differently to you as a result of, in my case, a physical disability. Jessica Bothma, the same journalist who is running a piece on the discrimination I faced two weeks ago did a piece in the previous Varsity Newspaper which reiterates my independence point perfectly (find the link here here – thanks again Jessica for all the help).