Sophomore Deborah Stamm continued her fight against the University’s decision to not allow her service dog, Sid, to accompany her to class or live in her dormitory. Stamm began her fight in early summer and it has continued through this semester, culminating in a legal suit.

Stamm won a temporary victory on Oct. 11, when U.S. District Court Judge David Larmier ruled in a preliminary hearing that she could keep Sid with her at UR until the case was resolved in court.

Stamm lives on the Computer Interest Floor, on the third floor of Anderson Tower. CIF Chairman and sophomore Robert Ramsay noted that no issues have arisen from the latest addition to their community.

“We really don’t see much of [Sid] unless she is taking him with her or out for a walk,” Ramsay said. “Everyone is either indifferent or very friendly and receptive.”

Ramsay followed up to say that, thus far, no one has complained of an allergic reaction.

While Stamm was also given permission to take Sid to classes, she has not taken that step, citing that Sid’s heavy breathing may prove to be distracting.

“He has some slight breathing problems that almost sound like whining, so I haven’t actually taken him to classes yet,” she said. “But he’s gone to work with me and [to] the Pit and never been a problem.”

Stamm commented that Sid is usually well received by the UR community

“If I hear or see a reaction, it’s positive,” she said. “Occasionally people will seem to be avoiding him, but people seem to like Sid or are just interested and asking questions.”

While Stamm has not received any negative responses, Dean of the College Richard Feldman noted that he has heard concerns.

“A small number of complaints about Sid have been brought to my attention, and we are trying to respond to them,” Feldman said.

Stamm was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder last year and Type 1 diabetes last summer. This past spring, she opted to get a service dog to help her cope with her disability. She attributes her choice to return to UR this semester directly to her change in behavior after obtaining Sid.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.”

Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of University Health Service Ralph Manchester, M.D. noted that some research has shown that such service animals can help individuals with a disability; however, the case studies are limited.

“In general, as far as the use of any kind of animal to treat people with depression or other mental health disorders, there hasn’t been as much research done,” Manchester said. “The research I’m familiar with has looked at using animals to help people who are hospitalized because of depression? But that’s a different setting than someone who is being treated as an outpatient.”

Manchester went on to describe the typical course of action taken by doctors to combat the effects of depression and other mental disorders.

“The two kinds of treatment that have been shown to be the most effective with depression in rigorous scientific studies have been counseling and certain medications,” Manchester said. “I think most people would consider [a service animal] a second or thirdline treatment because it has not been studied in the rigorous way to have the same kind of backings that counseling and medications now have.”

According to Stamm, such recommended treatments did not produce satisfactory results. She has taken medication and had found nine years of counseling to be ineffective, explaining that she had just recently stopped seeing a psychologist when she lost her insurance coverage. However, Stamm emphasized that suffering from the two diseases simultaneously spurred her initiative to get a service animal.

“Another reason for having Sid is the combination of having diabetes and depression,” she said. “With Type 1 diabetes you have to monitor your eating habits and insulin levels closely and make the proper adjustments. I have had days because of depression that I don’t eat at all.”

Stamm went further to explain that Sid could prevent a life-threatening situation. In simplified terms, having diabetes means that the body does not metabolize glucose (blood sugar) properly. An immediate risk of this disease is the potential for the body to lapse into a hypoglycemic state, or insulin shock, in which the level of glucose circulating in the blood stream is too low.

“The main problem [for diabetics] tends to be hypoglycemia, which means your blood sugar drops, which can send people into a coma,” she said. “Sid has a command to bring me a basket containing foods that would bring my blood sugar up really quickly.”

Because she found Sid to be a useful companion, Stamm went through the University’s appeals process to ensure that she could bring him to UR. She was required to submit documentation that cited she had a disability and was eligible for accommodations. Although the University ultimately denied her request, she was offered an alternative off-campus living situation, which she declined.

Stamm’s case may be unique to UR. Washington University in St. Louis’s Director of Disability Resources Christine Street could not recall a comparable request that she had received. However, she explained that Wash U. would only allow the student to bring the service dog if the student provided appropriate documentation of a disability. Street also articulated why this may be such a tough decision.

“I can understand that it would be an unusual situation to allow a service dog for a psychiatric disability,” she said. “It’s not a common situation. [A service animal] is not an accommodation that we have seen being made by psychiatrists or psychologists.”

As for UR, Feldman noted that the University’s position regarding its original decision remains unchanged.

“There have not been any changes in UR’s position since the injunction was issued earlier in the semester,” he said.

Meanwhile, Stamm is still waiting to find out when her next hearing will be held. The only news she has received is that the original judge who presided over the preliminary hearing will continue to hear her case. However, she is feeling better with Sid around, even if it is temporary.

“Everything is going so much better for me than before,” Stamm said. “I’m able to act so much more normally – I have more energy, and I’m able to get work done and go to classes.”

Squires is a member of the class of 2010.



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