Service Dog goes to Cornell Lab

It’s Caitlin bird your favorite service dog trainer letting you in on all the scoops that’s been happening about service dogs in the news recently. Here’s a couple articles that I want to go through.

I just have to say I highly appreciate the person who wrote the SOP for service dogs in the lab. I’m just gonna tell you that right now the original person who did that, she has I believe, a golden retriever. She wrote the SOP on service dogs in Labs and it looks like this is the first dog that I’ve seen in a lab besides hers! So this is pretty exciting stuff. Let’s get into it.

Doggles, booties, keep student’s service dog safe in the lab. The article is by Caitlin Hayes from the Cornell Chronicle and it was published December 12 2022.

When Genesis Contreras, 24, transferred to Cornell earlier this year she wanted to gain research experience in a lab. But there was a challenge. Contreras relies on a service dog to warn her of sudden and debilitating headaches and fainting spells. Due to potential hazards even service dogs are often prohibited in a lab setting. In other words Contreras needed her dog to keep her safe in the lab but the dog, a four-year-old Beagle named nugget, needed to be safe in the lab as well.

Not to mention if you have a dog that has high sensitivity for scent, I mean a beagle is one of those dogs, so I wonder about that as well.
Multiple faculty and staff at Cornell worked collaboratively with Contreras, an animal science major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to find a solution.

Now, nugget works the lab in full personal protective equipment, PPE, including goggles or dog goggles, booties, and a custom lab jacket.
I need to know wait a minute the lab jacket I need to know can I tell is he wearing I think he’s wearing a tie. okay so this is just a cover tie. I’ve seen these for sale separately. but then this yeah it does it looks like a little little doggy jacket. I wonder if it has legs in the back? I don’t know. I want to see the whole thing!

Nugget sits on a designated mat alongside Contreras as she studies the threatened Eastern hellbender salamander in the Cornell Wildlife Health lab co-directed by Kristen Schuler, assistant research professor in the department of public and ecosystem Health, in the College of veterinary medicine. An experience that Contreras says has opened her eyes to new career paths and provided valuable mentorship and connection.

Studying the Eastern hellbender salamanders, listen those smaller amphibians. Typically things with high reproductive rates are fantastic to study to measure the health of an ecosystem. So when scientists are doing these kinds of things, and I know this because I’m a biology major, also to check and manage the health of an ecosystem because with salimanders they need lots of water, they have a permeable membrane on their body, look at this I’m using all my big science words that I went to school for. And if the water isn’t clean, clear, and healthy those salamanders are not going to exist there. Right? So great indicator species.

It’s not something I ever saw myself doing. Said Contreras. I’m interested in conservation but I always thought that meant working more directly with animals. I’ve learned that you can work on conservation in the lab and it’s just as much fun and it fulfills you just as much too.

When nugget leaves his mat to lay on Contreras, or even sometimes on post-doctoral researcher Alyssa kagner, they both know it’s time to assess how Contreras is feeling and to take a break if needed. With nuggets warning Contreras can often take steps like resting, eating, or drinking or taking medicine to lessen or even prevent an attack.

Genesis has helped me learn enough of nugget’s signals to know that if he’s left his place it’s because he’s trying to alert us that we need to have a conversation about how she’s feeling and whether we need to make modifications to keep her safe. kegner said.

It’s extremely impressive in all of this, we’ve been the lucky ones. Genesis has been incredibly patient with us and has allowed us to push the bounds of what we can do. Cornell programs and people committed to inclusion and access helped make nuggets entry to the lab possible. Contreras first expressed interest in research while participating in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Cornell University Research transfer in her program. Which helps life science students transferring from two-year institutions with community and connect with research opportunities at Cornell. It’s one of two programs.

What has really changed over the 20 years I’ve been at Cornell is that more people are appreciating that individuals with disabilities are part of a diverse population and are embracing that and seeing the creation of an accessible and inclusive campus as a collective responsibility. Sember said.

I’ve seen more campus community members wanting to know what individuals with disabilities are experiencing here and they want to be more proactive about truly considering and including us, disability and all.

That is awesome because what most people say when they when they look at a 21 years old. What are most people want to say? “Why do you need the service dog? You don’t look unhealthy. You look fine.”

Hello? Hello??

This is what we call invisible disability okay and it’s very invalidating when people ask those types of questions and it’s really nice to see that Cornell is working and trying to incorporate this more into their programs. So that’s fantastic!

Case in point, support for Contreras was swift, enthusiastic, and widespread. Reagan and Avery August, professor of immunology and Deputy Provost for the University, helps connect Contreras with Schuler and approvals from many others came readily. Kagner who has volunteered with Guiding Eyes For the Blind over a decade, immediately began researching options for making the lab safe for nugget. Passing information to Contreras who made final decisions about what would work best and how to train nugget with the PPE. A process of acclimating him to and encouraging him with each new piece of equipment.

This is this is gold! This is just like my ears are listening and it’s just it’s this article is dripping gold. I am, I love it.

I didn’t want research to be a burden on Genesis and I wanted to make sure she was empowered to make those choices for herself. Kegner said. Our laboratory co-directors have brought such creativity and flexibility to making a diverse group of people feel at home, and personally for me, they’ve been so generous with their time and mentorship I feel as a scientist and a conservationist I have an obligation to try to pay it forward to make it as easy as possible for many different people as possible to have access to this field.

In addition to gaining valuable skills, Contreras has said her experience in the lab also makes her feel connected and encouraged, providing one-on-one mentorship and a sense of what science looks like beyond the more immediate stress of her academic courses.

It gives me so much relief too. It doesn’t feel like I’m running a race with an end, which is how classes can sometimes feel. The work is really heavy and then you get a grade. She said the research is more ongoing and I can make mistakes and correct them as I go.

Contreras said the community of support for her and nugget at Cornell has extended beyond her lab prep placement and has involved staff from housing and residential life.

Student Disability Services Cornell Health, all part of student campus life as well as her co-workers at the cinema, her professors and her peers.

My main takeaway from this is that none of this is a one-size-fits-all approach. Every service animal is unique, every service user is unique, and having that open dialogue is key to developing a successful outcome. Genesis is an awesome scientist, she’s really going to do incredibly well in whatever she chooses to do. We’ve been really lucky to be a part of that growth and journey for her.

You know what I’ve learned my biggest takeaway? If you have a service dog and you want to go to school, Cornell all the way!

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