The Life of a Service Dog on Campus
Maple Shryock hails from Indiana. She came to Texas from the Indiana Canine Assistant Network to assist Emily Shryock, director of collaborations and access within the Disability and Access unit in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.
Although Maple is grateful for the training she received in the Indiana Prison system, she is quite content to be under the open Texas skies helping her favorite person.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
MS: Opening doors! I love all the different types of door opening buttons on campus—some are blue rectangles, some are squares, some are on stand-alone posts. It’s part of my job to figure out where the button is and then push it for Emily.
I also retrieve things for Emily and sometimes carry different things for her. I’ll admit working remotely was sort of boring, so I’m glad to be back on campus a few days a week to see my coworkers. We have had lots of new people to meet recently; Disability and Access now has 19 staff members and every fall there are so many new students.
Do you have a favorite spot on campus?
MS: The turtle pond by far. Watching the turtles scurry when I approach is such fun. I think they would like me if they got to know me a little better, but they aren’t very friendly.
What is the worst part of your job?
MS: Those fire alarms! The sound of the alarms is so intense. The noise is so stressful for me and the other service dogs on campus. And although we are just dogs, we do get stressed out sometimes. There are days when we may not be feeling well, or there can be situations that we don’t like or are afraid of. That’s when we rely on our handlers, our people, to help us figure out what to do or remove us from the situation.
What should people expect when they see a service dog on campus?
MS: Whenever Emily talks to children about service dogs, she tells them, “When you see the vest or harness on a working dog, pretend it’s an invisibility cloak. Pretend that you don’t see the dog.” She says that because we dogs can easily be distracted by friendly, baby talk like “Oh what a cute dog.” Even though we are professionals, the compliments just go to our heads and easily divert our attention, even though we know that can put our person at risk.
Do you ever have any free time?
MS: Oh yes, Emily is good about allowing off-duty time. If I am not wearing my service harness, I am allowed to socialize and accept pats and treats and play ball with my adoring public.
So Maple, you are a Labrador. What other types of dogs become service dogs?
Most service dogs are likely to be larger dogs like Labrador and Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds. But really, most any kind of dog can be trained to be a service dog. A lot of dogs are now being trained to do alert work, alerting when their owners experience a change in symptoms or alerting their people to noises. Just like with people, you can’t make assumptions about appearance—even poodles can be service dogs.