10-03-2005, 09:39 AM
Ferrets Are Service Animals Too
I think I've heard everything now.
Ferret Causes Controversy At Our Lady Of The Lake University
School Says Woman's Service Animal Not Safe
POSTED: 11:16 pm CDT September 20, 2005
UPDATED: 10:22 am CDT September 21, 2005
SAN ANTONIO -- A student at Our Lady of the Lake University has filed a complaint, alleging the school is violating her civil rights.
The student asked the Justice Department to find the university in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The complaint centers on Sarah Sevick's service animal, which is a ferret.
Sevick, 19, suffers from a variety of mental disorders and requires the animal to get through her day, much the same way a blind person needs a seeing-eye dog.
"People really don't understand," Sevick said. "They think she's just a pet, but she's working for me."
Sevick's ferret, Lilly, is trained to help her cope with anxiety and panic attacks that can come on at any time.
"She gives me something else to focus on besides what's wrong, and she just stays with me and soothes me and calms me," Sevick said.
Before Lilly came into her life, Sevick's psychiatric problems, including post traumatic stress disorder, kept her from keeping a job and forced her to drop out of college.
With the help of Lilly, Sevick was accepted to Our Lady of the Lake, but Lilly wasn't welcome at the school.
Administrators said they couldn't comment on the situation, but in letters sent to Sevick's mom, they outlined their reasoning, saying they were "unable to conclude her impairment qualifies as a disability."
"I do have a disability," Sevick said. "Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not real."
In the documents, the school expresses concerns over health and safety issues, and the possibility the ferret may hurt someone.
They also questioned the training Lilly received, though the Americans With Disabilities Act doesn't require service animals be formally trained.
Lilly is registered with a service animal organization and has identification, but the school is not budging.
"I'm getting along. I'm surviving, but I'm walking on really thin ice. I don't think I can make it at this point without her," Sevick said.
Sevick has had two major panic attacks since being separated from Lilly.
She likes the school and wants to stay, but doesn't think she can succeed without her ferret.
The Justice Department is reviewing the complaint, but it could take three months for any action to be taken.