Board OKs policy limiting animals on campus

Four-legged friends will no longer be allowed inside Western buildings, unless approved as service/therapy animals or belonging to faculty members, according to a policy approved by Western’s Board of Governors at its regular meeting Thursday.

The Pets and Therapy Animals on Campus Policy will take effect May 1, with the intent of ensuring “a safe, non-threatening, and welcome environment for everyone who comes to Western,” Matt Mills, director of Health, Safety and Wellness, told the Board.

Dogs and other pets will still be allowed in outdoor spaces on campus, provided the animals are under control and well-behaved. In all cases, any animal that becomes aggressive or poses a threat to the health and safety of a member of the university or guest may be removed from campus.

The eight-page policy and procedures document works to straddle sometimes-competing rights of people with disabilities to receive accommodation; of other campus members and visitors to have a safe study/work environment; and of faculty members within their collective agreement.

The document includes several scenarios where animals may, and may not, be allowed:

  • Service animals – which are not pets but, instead, are working animals that assist people who have disabilities – continue to have access with their owners to all facilities, including cafeterias and eateries, except where it would be unsafe for the health and safety of the animal, its owner or others in the room/lab. Service animals are generally not allowed in hazardous-material labs or in areas where research animals are handled.
  • Therapy animals – brought to campus by a third party “for the purposes of providing comfort, cheer and companionship” – are allowed on campus only with advance written approval that includes date, time, duration and place. Their vaccinations must be up-to-date and the provider would be responsible for their care and behaviour. A sign would be posted on the building while the therapy animal is there.
  • Faculty members may bring pets to their private offices if the pet is under control while on campus and if there are no written objections to the presence of the animal.
  • Pets outdoors must be on a short leash less than two metres long, in a cage or in someone’s direct physical control. Their owners must clean up after the animal and must ensure it is appropriately licenced and vaccinated.

Mills said the policy has been in the works for 18 months and has included extensive consultations.

In the recent past, people with disabilities have raised concerns that pets on campus have jumped at or otherwise interfered with their service animals while on duty.

Others have raised health-and-safety issues about pets, and Mills cited three accident reports filed in a six-month span in 2018 alone: a dog that had jumped up and made someone fall; a cat that had triggered allergies; and a dog that had bit someone.

This policy emphasizes service animals are not pets and are used to serve specific medical or psychological needs of their custodians. They have documentation, including a photo-identity card, attesting to their role.

Revised procedures for service dogs will include owners’ being asked consent that classmates be notified that a service animal will be in the room, so that other arrangements – which still respect everyone’s rights to accommodation – can be made if someone has allergies or phobias.

Mills said 10-15 per cent of North Americans have allergies to animals and about 3-5 per cent of the population has a phobia about animals.

In general, enforcement and compliance of the policy will fall to university supervisors, managers, directors, faculty administrators, faculty members and campus police.

The policy, which the board decided would undergo a review after a year, applies only to Main Campus and not to King’s, Brescia or Huron affiliate university colleges.