Service dog provides relief for anxiety

Students walking around campus this year may notice a new cute and furry member to the community: a dog named Ebony. Dogs have been brought on campus before for a few hours or a day, but Ebony lives on campus, as she has an important job. She is a service dog.

Ebony’s owner is Sophia Vietti, a freshman environmental science major. Vietti experiences anxiety, which can make everyday activities seem daunting, but Ebony stays with her to help her calm down so she can go to classes, clubs, the gym and do common college activities.

“I get anxiety attacks, and she notices changes in my behavior,” Vietti said. “She lets me know when one is coming on, and when I’m in the middle of an attack, she helps me calm down.”

Vietti found Ebony, a 3-year-old rescue dog, online before bringing her home in late March.

“We went to visit her and she was really good from the get-go,” Vietti said. “She behaved well and was really interested in me and my mom.”

Vietti said she trained Ebony herself with books she got off Amazon on how to train service dogs. In addition, Ebony went through a basic obedience class to be certified. Vietti said it was not difficult to train Ebony, and it only took about two months.

“She is an amazing dog,” said Vietti. “Some things took a little bit longer to train her on, but she is a quick learner.”

Vietti said the process of making sure Ebony was able to live on campus was long, but not difficult. She had to receive a letter from her therapist saying she needed a service dog, and to  make sure Ebony had the necessary vaccines and to get a certificate of health from her vet. Being a Michigan native, Vietti also had to get a Pennsylvania dog license.

Courtney Balban, academic support counselor, said Waynesburg has no other requirements than those required by law, such as to remain in control of the animal, pick up after it and respect others.

“Sophia simply notified us that the dog would be on campus and informed us of the specific task the animal is trained to perform. Sophia and her service animal are protected by law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and are not required to provide any additional information or documentation,” she said.

Balban said that to her knowledge, no service animals have lived on the Waynesburg campus before now.

“We have had emotional support animals before, but no service animals. They serve different purposes and are governed differently so the distinction is vital,” she said.

Vietti said Ebony has been well-behaved on campus and said she has met multiple people because they are curious about her service dog and want to ask questions.

“I’ve met so many people through that,” Vietti said. “It’s just like a really good ice breaker.”

Vietti said  she hasn’t received any negative comments about having Ebony on campus, but she wants to prepare herself for the future.

“I expect to [get negative comments] at some point in time, so I just like to be as prepared as possible for the situation,” she said.

For Vietti, having her service dog, by her side has definitely made a difference in her life and has been “a step forward.”.

“With the anxiety, it’s been a great help to me when I feel overwhelmed. I can just sit down and pet her, and she’ll come up to me and lick my face and really calm me.” Vietti said. “It’s taken a lot of work [readjusting], but now I can’t imagine not having her.”