A dog dressed in red booties and swimming goggles has been getting some quizzical glances at the University of Colorado, Denver. But personal protective equipment (PPE) isn't just for humans. Undergraduate student Stephanie Akright learned this firsthand this past semester when an Iraq War veteran signed up for the laboratory Akright was teaching at the school.
Before the semester began, Akright says, she had concerns about keeping the student's service dog safe. But after running through the procedures with Catherine Rathbun, the laboratory safety coordinator, and witnessing how well protected the dog would be from chemicals, her uneasiness decreased. By the end of the semester, Akright says, "the dog's training made her better behaved than some of my students."
Rathbun tells Newscripts her main safety consideration was making sure the dog was not exposed to chemicals. Thus, Rathbun required that the dog wear booties and goggles and stay on a mat while in lab. Beyond PPE considerations, Akright describes other precautions that were implemented to ensure the animal's safety: "We wanted quick access to the exit for both the animal and the student and placed the mat in a low traffic area of the lab, which was also in close proximity to a safety shower and the student's bench."
As far as how other students interacted with the service animal, Akright says, "The students were respectful of the service animal's boundaries and did not come up and pet the dog while she was on duty."
PPE-clad pooches could be coming to a teaching laboratory near you. Sheila Kennedy, a safety coordinator at the University of California, San Diego, points out that the Americans with Disabilities Act
requires universities to make reasonable accommodations for service animals. Kennedy says they have not yet needed to make such accommodations in the chemistry and biochemistry department's teaching labs at UCSD, but it is something they have given a great deal of thought. Following her experience, Akright says, "I have hopes that more students who need service animals won't skip lab classes just because they have a dog accompanying them."