You might have noticed some new furry faces—and wagging tails—on campus. This is not a canine invasion, but the work of Wittenberg’s 4 Paws for Ability.
Eight service dogs will be working as hard as the students this semester while being trained to work with people with disabilities.
The 4 Paws for Ability organization is a non-profit with headquarters based in Xenia. Before coming to campus, the dogs work with inmates at the local prison to learn obedience. Wittenberg trainers work with them on socialization and behavior.
Senior Taylor Clark is co-advisor to the university program headed by Dean Kelly. Clark says socialization is a “crucial part of training for the dog.” But she says the dog is not the only one benefiting.
“The dogs are also stress relievers for students, so it’s definitely a win-win situation,” Clark says.
Students who are allergic to dogs do not need to worry. Trainers must ask permission of the teacher and the students before bringing the dog to class. Clark says one of the reasons why there are only eight dogs is because student health and comfort, as well as campus size, have been taken into consideration.
A student wanting to be a trainer must be a Junior or a Senior with a 2.5 G.P.A. living in off-campus housing. Previous experience with animals helps but is not mandatory. The program supplies necessities like food, leashes, a bone, and a ball. It is free to the student, unless he or she wants to buy more squeaky toys.
After the applicants have been selected and matched with the dogs, they undergo a seven hour orientation when the dogs arrive. Here the trainers learn basic training and commands, and every other Sunday there are meetings where they work with the dog on tricks and behavior.
The dogs will be on campus the entire semester, and some will go back around exam week. Depending on each dog, some go back to the prison or 4 Paws, or some go to advance training. At this next stage, the dog will be placed with people with disabilities like epilepsy and autism.
Parting doesn’t have to be such sweet sorrow, though. Clark says trainers can get closure when they are invited to the dog’s graduation.
“It gives them a chance to meet the family and say goodbye to the dog,” Clark says.
So, if you see one of these persevering pooches around, remember that it helps to be social.
(Kelsie Evelsizor / firstname.lastname@example.org)