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Good News 2018: Service dog helps veteran excel in college

Good News 2018: Service dog helps veteran excel in college

'It was hectic, but I did it.'
Good News 2018: Service dog helps veteran excel in college
U.S. Air Force veteran Chuck McGuirk spends a quiet moment with his service dog Maddie in this file photo.
Photographer: Photo provided

Editor's Note: As we pause to celebrate the holidays and reflect on the year, we are shining fresh light this week on some of the brightest good news stories of 2018. The stories have been updated to include new developments since their original publication. The following is an update of a story that was last updated in the Sept. 2 edition of The Daily Gazette. The original story is included below the update. The two stories are separated by diamonds.

When Air Force veteran Chuck McGuirk and Maddie, his service dog, stepped onto the Schenectady County Community College campus in early September for the first day of class, he felt like the spotlight was on them. 

Earlier in 2018, shortly after he was accepted into the culinary arts program, Mcguirk was told by the college that it would not allow Maddie in the kitchen during culinary classes. McGuirk, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, said that he needed to have Maddie with him because she eases his anxiety and panic attacks, and her presence would allow him to learn.

McGuirk spoke with local media outlets, including The Daily Gazette, about the situation over the summer, and shortly before the start of the fall semester, SCCC and McGuirk came to a solution: Maddie could be crated underneath his desk for cooking/baking classes. 

It made for a successful first semester in just about every way. McGuirk, who kept his full-time job, took 16 credits and was perhaps busier than ever. 

“It was hectic, but I did it,” McGuirk said. When the Gazette spoke with him last week, his grades had not been finalized, but he expects he came in around 4.0. 

“All the instructors were fantastic,” McGuirk said. 

Once the instructors saw where Maddie was going to be crated and how she was trained, they understood she would not be a distraction, said McGuirk. 

“Some [students] didn’t even know there was a dog in the class until halfway through the semester,” McGuirk said. 

When he started culinary school, McGuirk thought he wanted to fulfill his dream of opening a restaurant. But after taking a few courses, he has realized he has a passion for baking.

“It’s something I never thought I’d like,” he said, adding that he found himself drawn to both the exacting science behind each recipe and the presentation aspect of food. 

“This semester answered a lot of questions for me,” he said. 

Though he’s glad to have the winter break to spend more time with his four children, he’s looking forward to the spring semester, too. 

                                                                          ********

SCHENECTADY — Schenectady County Community College administrators announced Friday that a solution has been found to accommodate a veteran's service dog in the college kitchen for culinary classes. 

Because of state code concerns, SCCC's disability office told Air Force veteran Chuck McGuirk that his service dog, Maddie, would not be allowed in the kitchen with him while he was attending culinary classes.

After serving in the Air Force for 11 years, McGuirk was diagnosed with PTSD. In an earlier interview with The Daily Gazette, he said activities such as going to the movies, going to work and sometimes even leaving his home in East Greenbush became difficult. Maddie helped to ease his panic attacks and general anxiety, making it possible for him to do things like take his four young children camping or to the park.

McGuirk argued that because the Americans With Disabilities Act is a federal law — which does not specify kitchens as an exception for service animal access in public places — he should be able to be accompanied by his dog, under the protection of the law that supersedes state and local codes. 

In a statement released on Friday, the community college said it was "pleased to have arrived at a resolution that works for everyone."

“During the upcoming semester, Maddie will be stationed in a soft crate in a peripheral section of the kitchen area, easily accessible to the student," the college said. "We appreciate the help and support from the county and the Department of Health in making these determinations."

With classes starting the first week of September, McGuirk can avoid having to make course changes at the last minute, a concern he had when the issue was in limbo.

“SUNY Schenectady will always support individuals with disabilities and work to foster an inclusive environment that is accessible and welcoming for all students and employees,” the statement concluded. 
 

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