EL DORADO, Kan. (KAKE) - A recent nursing graduate at Butler Community College says the school is not allowing his service dog to be in the class photo after letting them both walk at graduation last week.

Zack Trumpower says when he was a teenager, he was diagnosed with a heart condition. He learned that with the diagnosis, he was eligible to qualify for a service dog.

Instead of buying a service dog, Trumpower wanted his beloved shelter dog, Coco, to aid him.

With the help of his dad, a retired Air Force nurse who has been practicing for 20+ years, Trumpower says they were able to train Coco to alert him to impending cardiac issues.

After receiving his Licensed Practical Nurse certificate in 2017, Trumpower was accepted into Butler's Advanced standing LPN-RN class in the fall of 2022.

Trumpower says he and Coco together have now completed three semesters as well as multiple clinical labs and clinical rotations at local hospitals. 

"Coco has attended class during some of the hardest tests that I have ever taken and not only helped relieve the huge amount of stress I was feeling, but she would also go around the class to every one of my classmates and let them pet her to help them relax," he said.

At his graduation from Butler on May 9, Coco walked alongside Trumpower as he received his diploma. He says the school also honored her by pinning her at the school's nursing pinning ceremony.

Now, Trumpower says Coco has earned the right to be in the class photo.

"I have the support of all of our instructors and students," he said. "I have the support of not only my class, but every nursing class at Butler. I also have the support of countless past Butler nursing graduates. At the end of the day, it is our class photo."

Despite the support from fellow classmates and instructors, Trumpower says the decision came down to the associate dean of the nursing program, who he says denied the request. 

Courtesy Zack Trumpower


"There are no rules against having Coco in our photo," Trumpower said. "I asked if it was an issue of money to make a new photo and she (the associate dean) said no. It was just her personal decision."

Trumpower says having Coco in the class photo would not only be an honor to her, but it would show others with disabilities that nothing is out of reach.

"This can show that Butler not only supports individuals with disabilities, but encourages them to apply and complete the hardest academic program that the school has to offer," he said. "I not only would love for Coco to be honored forever for her work, I would also love for her to be something someone looked up to and realized that, 'Hey, just because I have a disability, I can reach for this dream and it is within reach.'" 

In response to the decision to not let the service dog be in his class photo, Trumpower says a Change.org petition has been made.

"You know Coco's earned it when she's practically become a permanent fixture in our lecture halls, surviving tests and clinicals like a superhero," one person wrote on the petition. "She's the glue holding our nursing program together, part-time cheerleader, part-time motivational speaker, and full-time legend!"

"Coco was with us every single class and her person, Zack, was told she WOULD be up on the wall with us. There is no reason she can't be," said another. 

So far, the petition has 151 signatures out of a 200-signature goal

After his graduation on May 9, Trumpower says that he plans on continuing his work in long-term care at local nursing homes with Coco by his side.

"After graduation I plan to continue to work in Long Term Care in local Nursing homes, where Coco also comes with me to work, bringing smiles to all of the residents I care for."

KAKE News has reached out to Butler Community College for a comment.


Courtesy Zack Trumpower