Service Dogs in the Chemistry Lab

service dog in lab

In the fall semester 2019, a student with a service dog took one of my chemistry courses. Before she showed up the first day of lab, our department had zero experience with service animals in the laboratory. Fortunately for us, this student came the first day to class knowing all her rights and responsibilities and was already prepared with reasonable lab safety equipment for her service dog. After a short conversation, we agreed on a location for her dog to stay on his mat where he would be safe and would remain close enough to her to continue his work without interruption.

During the course, she described to me the struggles she had faced at another institution where she had to seek legal assistance because she was initially denied entry with her dog into certain classes and labs. She already knew her rights because she had been forced to learn them from these past experiences. Thankfully, she did not face any barriers at our institution, but we did learn from her and from the experience. A recent article (N. Notman, "Fit for a Dog: Clearing Barriers to Campus Canines", Nature, 2021, 589, 627-630) describes the challenges faced by students with service dogs at many institutions where they have had to fight to be allowed into laboratories.

I do believe it is our responsibility as educators to familiarize our departments with the important aspects of the laws around accommodations for students with service animals and develop a general plan for how to safely include service dogs in our laboratories before we are surprised by a service dog on the first day of a class. In our experience, one of the most important things we learned immediately was that under ADA you are only allowed to ask two questions of someone with a service dog:

  • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?, and
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Any other concerns beyond simply determining placement in the room and safety considerations for the service animal should be handled at the institutional level.

There is a range of possibilities for safety equipment depending on the specific laboratory, experiments being performed, and the tasks the dog needs to perform during lab. The picture shown was taken with permission and shows my student's service dog in the protective gear he wore in our organic chemistry laboratory. In this case, his work involved being within a certain distance from his partner and being able to see her at all times. He was able to work while staying on his mat in a corner the entire time during lab. The required placement and safety considerations will vary and depend partly on the experiments being conducted and the tasks being performed by the service animal.

An excellent resource was recently published (P. A. Redden, "Service Dogs and Safety in Academic Laboratories", J. Chem. Ed., 2021, 98, 68-70) that details important information related to the ADA accommodations for service dogs in the chemistry laboratory.

I encourage anyone that has not yet had the experience of accommodating a service dog in a chemistry laboratory at your institution to discuss this with your department and make sure everyone understands how to appropriately respond to a student with a service dog. Let's change the landscape for students that have service dogs by preparing for them in advance. In my experience accommodating a service animal in the laboratory was an incredibly easy and fascinating experience.



General Safety

For Laboratory Work: Please refer to the ACS Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Secondary Schools (2016).  

For Demonstrations: Please refer to the ACS Division of Chemical Education Safety Guidelines for Chemical Demonstrations.

Other Safety resources

RAMP: Recognize hazards; Assess the risks of hazards; Minimize the risks of hazards; Prepare for emergencies