Heidi Jenson

Service Animal:

I had to leave my service dog with my parents for a few weeks, and my mom wanted to keep bringing her to church and other places so she could continue to do her training. I wish on the rare occasions I have to leave her she could still be a service dog and do her job. Shes never home alone, if she was a pet dog I could leave her when I go for a few hours but she’s a service dog so I cannot. She goes everywhere with me. For instance, at BYU I had a welding class. Obviously that was really unsafe for her to come to. No matter how well they are trained, until they make little welding face masks, it would be truly unsafe. But I also couldn't leave her at home. I would love for it to be okay to walk her around without being hassled here on campus, because they do not have a disability but are just helping me. I don’t know how to change the stigmas, but it would be helpful.


The biggest trouble I have encountered has been BYU housing. My current landlord did not give me the option of renewing my contract because of my service dog. They said they were looking for something “different” for the upcoming year. They refused and did not want have the service dog in their apartment complex. I will be graduating soon, but for new students that need housing, this is unfortunate. There have been two other instances of service dog that have been living in my complex. One was evicted, even though she made all repairs out of pocket. The other was kicked out and given the excuse that “Oh, whoops we didn't know you wanted to renew your contract.” It's really shady. Every time they talk to me about my service dog, they try to trick me into admitting that I just want a pet in my house. They try to say my service dog is not needed.

Accessibility Center:

I wish that there was a place I could go on campus. There's nowhere to go to say I think I've been treated unfairly with my landlords. Because they haven’t technically kicked me out or said I cannot have a service dog, I can’t raise my concerns because they have the upper-hand. I also don't want to raise my concerns because I do not want to be evicted from my apartment on account of whatever they say I did wrong. At the same time, I feel this strong sense of injustice. The Accessibility Center is always really hard to get in touch with. I don't know why. I actually went through my counselor that knows me really well to get accommodations so I wouldn't have to work with them. When I talk to the people at the accessibility center,  it's hard to feel like they know who I am. It's hard to see how they would care about my problems. This is not an unfixable problem. The UAC just needs more people or more resources. It shouldn't take that long to get in touch with them. They need better infrastructure, and better follow up! Something me and and my friends talk about a lot is, for something to be named the Accessibility Center, they make themselves really inaccessible. For instance, If I have anxiety about these things, they say they would help but first you have to go through all these steps that give you anxiety. Well, a student is not going to do that, and just end up suffering. It's just so frustrating .The process is so frustrating that for the first couple of weeks I just brought my service dog to class with me, without the UAC letter. My instructors have been WAY more helpful about everything than the UAC. It's so strange interacting with the accessibility center...what can they do? Let's start from there. It took about 1 to 2 months to actually get the letter from the UAC, it was longer than it needed to be. I already had her [the service dog].

Legislation and Advocacy Issues:

I would love to figure out how to make service dogs more official. I would love to have people with disabilities pass legislation to make service dogs much more official. The law is pretty lax, and creates a lot of pressure from people that think I am just bringing my pet dog everywhere. You can buy the vests off Amazon, and this makes it difficult for me to be taken seriously. If there were more concrete laws in place then people would take me seriously and not think, “oh she's just pretending.” I am totally willing to do extra steps to make my service dog more official. I didn't just slap a vest on my dog. She is trained and I wish that was taken seriously. My only concern would be that I worry that people who aren't familiar with disability to pass the law and make it impossible to get a service dog. That might be surprising for people to hear that I want more regulations. I want more regulations so that people take me seriously. I am not just bringing my pet around BYU. Down the line, the law would be helpful for housing because they would take me seriously. To ban someone from an apartment because they have a service dog is illegal. My rent person is not the first person that did not want to renew my lease. I had one before and  I threatened him with legal action, but he basically said, ‘go ahead you're not not going to win’ and then when I looked into cases in the Utah Valley area they were universally on the side of the landlord. It would just be a waste of my money to go after him. It's frustrating because on the one hand, I have a internal sense of justice, but one the other, am I prepared to take on the emotional burden of being the Joan of Arc for disabled people? I was a perfect tenant that was never late on rent, very clean, didn't break anything, and have a tiny dog, I don’t know what they have against me. I did consider going to my landlord and stating that I was a human being with real needs and emotions and this is my dog and shes very well behaved. I am not just a name on a rent check but a real person. But you know, I have so much else to concentrate on. I am graduating in a month, moving out of state, and I am trying to find a job in my career field. I have so much stuff to deal with, instead of making sure that these middle-aged landlords have a legitimate need for a service dog. But then, if we (disabled people) don't do it, who will? Nobody is going to say “well, that's not fair to those disabled people but I’m going to help even if it doesn't affect me.” Maybe when I have a career and money I can get into activism.

Mental Illness:

It's also very hard to do advocate mentally. A large part of our generation has a mental illness that makes this hard to deal with. We’re all too tired of fighting to deal with it. It's especially frustrating with landlords in a college town because they know that you need to be here, and you are only there for 4 years so you should just deal with it. It's intimidating because you're a student and they are adults. You should be on the same playing field as your landlord. You're paying money for a service. You both agreed that this house was worth this much money, so you should be on the same level. A lot of students and young people don't feel like they are, because they are new to interacting with landlords. But to throw a disability on top of that? That's impossible. I can barely advocate to tell them the shower isn't draining, and now they say that they hate you and your dog? Its very stressful environment, when it’s a place that should feel like your home.

BYU’s Intimidating Infrastructure:

I have hope when I move out of state, because it won't matter if I get in a tiff with my landlord. It wouldn't affect anything other than may housing. But at BYU it feels like everything is connected. If I make my landlord mad, would I be breaking the honor code? Everything is connected because you must have BYU approved housing and ecclesiastical endorsements and it seems like literally every single aspect of your life is connected when you go to BYU. You don't want to advocate for yourself because you don't want to put your education in jeopardy. I want to graduate. It's hard to advocate for yourself when they are holding your diploma out like a carrot. BYU says, “be submissive, don't make waves, and well give you this fancy sheet of paper.” It's frustrating, but you want that fancy sheet of paper so bad. It is a difficult power struggle. I think it's great to collect lots of stories, because they can't expel us all. If I hadn't had spoke together with two previous tenants with disabilities about what we had experienced, we all individually thought, well...maybe it was a misunderstanding or something. But with three of us, it looks like a pattern. When I talked with others it made me realize that the discrimination was really happening and I wasn't just a crazy person thinking everyone was out to get me and my dog. These stories seem so classic that you think I'm making them up, but they are real.