Buster and Beverly Morgan

A paw above:

Buster provides unconditional love just as strong as Beverly Morgan's passion for unbridled life.

Photos by Brooke A. Rogers

Life With Buster

LARAMIE–An autistic Laramie County Community College student is giving Albany County Campus a failing grade after an employee's aversion to her service dog prevented her from taking an exam Feb. 7 in Laramie.

Beverly Morgan, a high-functioning autistic, arrived on campus with Buster, her service dog, in tow. According to Morgan, when she tried to enter the lab to take her exam, the proctor yelled at her to "get that thing out." When Morgan refused, the proctor pushed a rolling chair into Buster, cutting his leg and causing Morgan to panic.

Morgan's autism causes her to be highly sensitive to the world around her. She described it as being "stuck in a sensory bionic body." It also prevents her from recognizing faces or remembering names. College is especially a challenge because she must translate words into pictures in her head to understand them.

Because of these handicaps, Morgan quickly becomes overwhelmed and overstimulated by the world around her. Once Morgan's body becomes stressed, it begins shutting down. She might temporarily lose her hearing or her ability to speak or see well. Morgan has strayed in front of moving vehicles several times because she couldn't sense them coming.

When Buster senses the chemical changes in her body that occur when she becomes overstimulated, he warns her she is in danger of shutting down. He does this most often by sitting in her lap and placing his paws on her chest. According to Morgan, Buster is a necessity. "He's a part of my everyday life," she said. "I need him just like I need shoes."

Buster is an Irish Whippet. This breed is generally intelligent and friendly to both friends and strangers, according to vetstreet.com. Irish Whippets are usually 18-22 inches tall and weigh 25-35 pounds.

Morgan, a communications major at University of Wyoming, began taking statistics at LCCC in January because of the recommendation of a friend who told her the college would accommodate her well. When she met with the disability director to discuss what accommodations would need to be made so Morgan could function effectively on the campus, she asked the director to specify she would need a service dog to be with her at all times. The director responded it was Morgan’s federal right to keep Buster with her, and it would be unlawful for anyone at the college to forbid Morgan from having him with her; therefore, it was unnecessary to put it as one of her accommodations.

According to Kathleen Urban, ACC interim associate vice president, Morgan had all the needed paperwork in order to have a service dog on campus.

Morgan said this is why she was surprised when the proctor denied her entrance to the exam lab even after she made it clear to him Buster was a service dog. According to Morgan, when she told him it was her legal right to have Buster with her at the school, he said, "Then call the police."

Buster

Flustered, Morgan then wandered into the lobby looking for help. She talked to security and ended up in Urban’s office.

Animal control was called, and a police officer arrived at the scene. The animal control officer told her the proctor said Buster had attacked him, and he had been defending himself. Morgan said this upset her because she had chosen an Irish Whippet as her service dog specifically because of the breed’s gentleness, and he had never even approached the proctor. “He’s a little lamb,” she said.

The situation, which lasted four hours, caused Morgan to miss her exam as well as a weekly class she was scheduled to attend that day, missing that week’s homework.

Preparing for the test with 12 hours of studying and meeting with her instructor, she was distraught. "I'm already hanging on by my fingernails," Morgan said. "I'm just trying to get through a class."

She was offered a supervised office to take the test, but by then, Morgan said, "The moment had past." Overstimulated and unable to concentrate, she denied the opportunity, saying it was unfair to ask her to take the test. "I'm traumatized. I've just had a vicious meltdown. I'm half there, and I'm not thinking about statistics anymore," she recalled.

Morgan said she’s unsure what would happen when she returns on campus to attend class because even discussing the event overstimulates her. She said the campus feels unsafe to her since the incident, and she’s concerned for the well-being of her dog.

“Someone went for my jugular vein, the thing I needed most in this world,” she said. “That’s my vulnerable spot.”

She’s hoping to find a tutor to help her catch up on her missed work and make the remainder of the semester easier, but she said the incident has set her back dramatically.

"The worst part is I was thrown out at a place I was sent to for accommodation," Morgan said. "The school failed me."

In response to the incident, Urban said, ACC will be stepping up training to ensure all personnel is aware of the college’s disability policies and procedures.

“It was an unfortunate situation that snowballed,” Urban said.