For the first time ever, Colonia High School has a service dog

March 18, 2020


Photo Credit: Photo by The Declaration Staff with Permission used by The Declaration Staff

Roaming through the hallway, Riley Canas and Dakota get ready for class.

For the first time in Colonia High School history, a student has a service dog. Junior Riley Canas and her chocolate lab Dakota, take on the hallways  and the many challenges that come with it.

Animals can be used for emotional support and as service animals. Animals can provide emotional support for someone with an emotional or psychological conditions. These animals can be used to help with anxiety, depression, and phobias because they enhance dopamine levels. To receive this service, all you need is your doctor’s approval as a response to one of the conditions mentioned previously.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” According to the US Service Animals website, service animals can assist deaf and blind people, remind people to take medications, pull wheel chairs, warn people of an oncoming seizure, and calm those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Service dogs can benefit those with the following conditions: “arthritis, blindness, deafness, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, paralysis, scoliosis, and seizures.”

Whether an animal is a emotional support animal or a service dog, they must be registered with the US Service Animals. They are not required to be leashed or to wear id tags, but it is strongly recommended.

Rare genetic disease

Canas suffers from a rare genetic disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia also known as spinocerebellar degeneration. This disease causes difficulty walking, a loss of sensation in the arms and legs, and impaired speech

“For as long as I remember I always ran weird,” Canas stated, “It wasn’t until 2017 when I got the flu and couldn’t walk that I realized something was up.”

According to heathline, Friedreich’s Ataxia affects approximately 1 and 40,000 people. Although there is no cure for this genetic disease, there are several treatments available one being assisted by a service dog.



Photo Credit: Photo via The Declaration Staff under creative common license

Enjoying her day at school, Dakota is ready to help Riley Canas.

Canas’ four legged friend Dakota is a two year old black lab hailing from Pennsylvania. She helps Canas to walk and pick up objects.

“I received Dakota from a breeder in Pennsylvania when she was just a pup,” Canas stated.” There were three dogs that were capable of being service dogs but we got lucky enough to get Dakota.”


Getting Dakota was the easy part but training her was a whole different story. Even though Dakota is meaning to be a service dog, it takes time for one to learn all the necessary skills. Canas decided to teach Dakota all the basic obedient commands and was successfully with that. However, she knew that it was going to be hard teaching a young eager pup to be a service dog.

“In November of 2018 we got a trainer to teach Dakota how to exactly be a service dog. They took her away for three weeks and taught her all the skills she would need to help me.”

After the three weeks of training Canas received her dog back and the two got situated with each other. Now the next step would be getting back to school but this time with a dog.

Returning to school

When Canas arrived back at school her junior year many were eager to see her four legged friend Dakota. However, not everyone is happy to have the dog simply because of their allergies. Luckily the staff at Colonia High School were able to make arrangements for the pair. This allows all parties to receive the best education they can.

Although Canas has her dog by her side her day is just like anyone else.

“I wake up to Dakota licking my face then I let her out and get ready for school,” Canas says. “My day is normal like everyone else except I take my dog to school with me.”

Just like any student at Colonia High School, Canas has all four blocks and learns the same way as any other student. Each day at 8:30 Canas heads down to the nurse for a checkup but makes a quick pit stop to the school’s courtyard.

“Each day before I head down to the nurse and at lunch I let Dakota out to use the bathroom,” Canas stated. “If it is nice out that day we will play and quick game of ball then head back to class for the remainder of the block.”

Bring awareness

Although Canas is a regular student she sometimes doesn’t feel like it. On many occasions people have stared, tried to pet, and even petted her dog without her permission.

“A lot of times people have came up to me and asked to pet my dog. My response every time is would you want to pet a wheelchair?”

During school, Dakota is Canas personal assistant, but outside of school the two are best friends. The two play games with each other and throw the ball around. The saying “dogs are a man’s best friend” fits these two perfectly.

Overall Canas wants people to know that although Dakota is tempting to touch, you should not pet her.

“I get that it’s hard to see and dog and want to pet it, but please do not pet Dakota unless I give you permission.”

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About the Writer
Photo of Robyn Epstein
Robyn Epstein, Co-Editor in Chief

Robyn Epstein is a senior at Colonia High School. She has one older brother who is twenty one and his name is Craig. They both enjoy going to the movies...

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