BAR HARBOR — People who have enjoyed taking their dog with them to a soccer or baseball game at Mount Desert Island High School or for a walk in the woods around the school are learning that their four-legged friends are no longer welcome.
Officially, they haven’t been welcome for years.
“That sign at the end of the driveway that says ‘no pets’ has been there for a very long time,” Principal Matt Haney said. “We haven’t really been supposed to have pets on campus since before I got here.”
But it has only been since the start of this school year that school officials have gotten serious about the no-pets-on-campus rule.
School nurse Holly Cozzi-Burr said a big reason is that a current student is so severely allergic to animals with fur that exposure can cause anaphylactic shock, which is potentially fatal.
Another reason for the no-pet policy, she said, is “for the safety of everyone in regard to animals that maybe aren’t quite as well behaved as the owner likes to think or may interact in a negative way with people or other animals on campus.”
A third consideration is sanitation.
“Not everyone picks up animal litter,” Cozzi-Burr said.
Haney said he hopes everyone will understand and respect the school’s new emphasis on the no-pets rule.
“It’s not because we don’t love dogs; it’s because of safety and comfort and sanitation,” he said.
The rule against having pets on campus could potentially conflict with the school system’s policy on service animals.
That policy states: “Use of a service animal by a person with a disability will be allowed in a school when the animal is required to perform work or tasks directly related to the individual’s disability.”
According to the policy, only dogs and, in certain circumstances, miniature horses may be considered service animals.
It is possible that a school could have a student with a severe allergy to pet dander and, at the same time, another student who has a legitimate need for a certified service animal.
“In that sort of situation we would have competing disabilities, essentially,” Haney said. “So, we would have to make reasonable accommodations for both individuals. There are solutions we could come up with to try to provide for the needs of both.”