Since two articles earlier this month in the University of Rhode Island’s Good 5 Cent Cigar about the removal of a therapy dog from Peck Hall, the story has gone national, receiving publicity from several major news sources and sparking angry comments from students, alumni and animal lovers alike.
First posted by College Media Matters blogger, Dan Reimold, the article has been tweeted and retweeted hundreds of times and was shared by popular news sites such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post College. It was also picked up by various local news stations such as WPRO and WBSM and was published in the South County Independent newspaper.
“I was completely blown away by how much publicity the article received,” said Mike LaPolice, owner of therapy dog Ivy.
The story’s nationwide recognition prompted URI Communications to issue a statement on April 14, explaining the university’s potential liability in the event of dog attack claims or sanitation issues and clarifying the university policy for bringing animals to work.
URI operates under the regulations set by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that therapy dogs, or “dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort and support…do not qualify as service animals.”
According to the statement issued by URI, “The university does not permit its employees to bring their pets to work, unless they are service animals.”
Based on ADA regulations and URI employment policies, Ivy would not be permitted to accompany LaPolice to work.
Although the purpose of URI’s statement was to clarify the regulations for employees with therapy dogs, LaPolice remains frustrated with the lack of communication by Housing and Residential Life and URI Communications.
According to the official statement, “The employee [LaPolice] was referred to Human Resources” after Ivy was removed from the residence hall. However, according to LaPolice, this was not the case.
“I was never referred to Human Resources,” he said. “Nobody has referred me anywhere and nobody from HRL will communicate with me.”
Associate Director of HRL Jeffrey Plouffe, once again refused to comment on the situation, saying in an email to the Cigar that he “cannot comment specifically about LaPolice.”
Director of Personnel Services and Human Resources Laura Kenerson said that the university has a process through which employees can document their need for a service animal.
“I would be responsible for Mr. LaPolice’s situation if he were to come to me, but so far he has not made that request,” Kenerson said.
After URI’s statement appeared on the university Facebook page, dozens of students and alumni shared their disapproval of the situation and their disappointment in URI.
“The fact that this institution still doesn’t understand how to frame public opinion and how to handle rudimentary decisions in the year 2015 is beyond me,” said Jay Michael in a Facebook comment. “As an alumnus, frankly, I’m embarrassed.”
Current students have not kept quiet about the situation, either. Several petitions have circulated throughout the Internet, and students set up a booth on the quad where passersby could sign a petition titled “Free Ivy.” Â As of Wednesday night they had gathered over 400 signatures on the digital petition.
“I’m really happy about what the students have done for me,” LaPolice said. “I almost cried this morning when I saw the booth they set up.”
Currently, LaPolice is still pursuing his options regarding medical reasons for bringing Ivy to campus.