’Berg freshman petitions to allow service dog in training on campus

PHOTO SUBMITTED Sarah Williams with her dog Ginger.

A Heidelberg University student has started a petition through the online format Care2 asking the institution to allow her service dog in training back on campus.

Sarah Williams is a freshman from Medina who is studying early childhood education. Her service dog, Ginger, had been with her on campus since move-in day, Aug. 18, until Oct. 20, after she had been informed the dog had to be off campus.

Ginger is a beagle-poodle mix that Williams chose when she was a three-month old puppy to help with her post-traumatic stress disorder. She is planning on teaching younger children who have special needs.

“I did a lot of research on training a psychiatric service dog,” she said. “I’m lucky I am given the chance to train my own service dog to attend to certain needs and perform tasks that are necessary for my well-being.”

Williams said she was notified Ginger would have to leave campus Oct. 16 by the department of disability services at Heidelberg. She said the university’s explanation was that Ginger didn’t meet requirements to have the rights as a service dog in training.

“The university did not provide me with evidence or an explanation as to why Ginger did not meet ADA service dog requirements and was not deemed a service dog,” she said.

According to information provided by the university, Ginger was asked to be removed from campus because she was not “ADA compliant.”

“I was shocked when this decision was made,” Williams said. “I tried to appeal the decision, but I was denied.”

She said she thought of dropping out or transferring, but decided not to because the education program is difficult to get into.

Williams said a classmate provided the idea to start the petition with Care2. Williams said when she started the petition, her goal was 1,000 signatures. So far, there are 160,000 signatures from people all over the world.

“The support she and I have received is phenomenal,” Williams said.

A statement provided by the university states, “Heidelberg University is aware of the online petition. While we are unable to comment on the specifics of this situation, university administrators are sensitive to the needs of all of our students. During the fall semester, we met with student Sarah Williams several times to discuss her service animal situation, to understand her request and to explain our Americans with Disabilities Act compliant policies.”

“We continue to work with all Heidelberg students, including Ms. Williams, to meet their educational needs while at the same time remaining compliant with the ADA for the good of our entire university community,” according to the statement. “At times, these processes take longer and require certain certifications. Heidelberg remains committed to providing the support needed for our students as well as a safe living and learning environment so that every student succeeds.”

Williams said she tries to cope without Ginger by traveling home on the weekends to see her and keeping busy with friends and in touch with family.

“I’m a different person when I’m with my dog, we do everything together,” Williams said. “College is difficult without her. I try to take it day-by-day, but I have high hopes she will be back soon and I can’t wait for that opportunity.”

If Ginger is unable to return, Williams said she plans on transferring to an institution that supports service dogs and the program 4 Paws for Ability.

“I don’t want to be at a school where I’m constantly singled out for having a service dog,” Williams said.

Williams said she has gotten a lot of support from her professors and fellow classmates.

Williams has started a GoFundMe – Service Dog Training for Ginger — to help raise enough money for Ginger to be sent to a training camp while Williams is away at college. The camp would board her and she would be able to come home following her training.

“I know whatever happens is for the best,” Williams said. “If I have to leave Heidelberg University for the sake of Ginger and I, I’ll be happy to find a better school.”