Service dog makes FIU history

A seven-year-old Pitbull named Kali made FIU history. During this year’s spring commencement, Kali received a notable distinction for her hard work supporting her owner, Worlds Ahead Graduate Tiffany Ascanio.

“She is the first service dog to be recognized by FIU’s Disability Resource Center with a certificate of completion,” announced President Mark B. Rosenberg.

The new award was created for service animals who meet federal guidelines and attend all of a student’s classes since the student started using them as an aid.

“The Disability Resource Center is always developing and researching innovative, effective and powerful ways to help support our students,” says Stephen Loynaz, access consultant manager for the Disability Resource Center.

During her first semester at FIU, Ascanio needed to find a preemptive measure to help her cope with an ongoing medical condition. After much research, she decided to have her canine, Kali, go through service dog certification training.

Unlike pets, service dogs are defined by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) as primarily working dogs trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability. By law, they can guide their owners in all public areas, including classrooms and libraries.

“I don’t think it’s for everyone, and I don’t think it should be abused,” says Ascanio. “But if people are willing to put in that dedication, it can give them a lot of freedom that they might not necessarily have in their life right now.”

Kali, who is protected by the ADA against breed specific legislation in Miami, accompanied Ascanio at FIU as she pursued her mechanical engineering degree. The Blue Nose Pitbull, not only put in her share of sleepless nights, but also hit it off with countless students.

“She has more friends than I do!” says Ascanio, who credits Kali as being instrumental to the completion of her degree. “I don’t think I could’ve been as successful here at FIU without her,” she says, “I’ve excelled so much further than I thought I could.”

Ascanio represents a lot of students who need to receive different types of support and accommodations including access to their service animals.

“We are really thrilled that Tiffany has been able to bring this narrative to life for our FIU community to embrace and celebrate,” says Amanda Niguidula, director for the Disability Resource Center.

Both Ascanio and Kali are headed to Seattle where the graduate was recently hired by Boeing commercial airplanes as a manufacturing engineer. But first, the dynamic duo plan on taking a well-deserved road trip where Kali will enjoy some of her favorite things including hiking, being in the water and visiting dolphins at the aquarium.

“FIU has completely supported me throughout and that’s something I truly appreciate,” says Ascanio.

Kali is the first service dog to be recognized at FIU with this distinction, but the Disability Resource Center hopes she will not be the last!

FIU welcomes service and emotional support animals with the appropriate documentation. Students that wish to have their service animal considered for the certificate of completion are encouraged to register them with the Disability Resource Center.


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