It’s always nice to put a face to a name—especially when it is man’s best friend.
Sophia is a 5 ½ month old yellow Labrador who is lazy, according to her trainer Derek Metz. When they go on walks, the junior Biology Major says he has to “practically drag her along.” If Sophia had a theme song, it would be “something slow and laid back.” Sorry sleepy students—she snoozes through classes and doesn’t get in trouble. Her favorite toy is a stuffed moose, and she also loves playing with sticks. At the moment, Metz is teaching Sophia to shake.
Howie is a 6 month old black Labrador-Hound mix who is anything but sluggish. Abigail Debner, a junior Education Major, says he is very hyper and vocal, which is why his theme song would have to be “something very upbeat.” Debner says he enjoys playing with tennis balls and “bounding after squirrels.” However, Howie has a bad habit of stealing her socks.
“He picks them up and carries them around the house,” Debner says.
Blaster is a 9 month old black and white Border Collie who was born on Boxing Day. His co-trainers are Melanie Muszelik, a senior Biochemistry and Economics Major, and Sarah Watson, a senior Chemistry Major. They say he is very intelligent and playful, and he entertains himself. If he had a theme song, Watson says it would be “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” by Jack Johnson. Blaster loves to watch tennis matches on ESPN, and he can give high fives. He can also play dead, but Muszelik says he needs a little work on “roll over.”
Watson says Blaster is catching on to the command known as “touch.” People with autism sometimes engage in stimming behaviors, which are repetitive actions like rocking or picking at fingernails. The dogs are trained to sense these behaviors and to touch the person to redirect his or her attention to the dog instead. These interactions can have a calming effect on the person.
The trainers all acknowledge the sadness of departing with their dogs at the end of the semester, but they say they know it is for a good cause. Debner says even if the dogs would fail the program, they would still go through adoption.
“I would still have comfort in knowing Howie would go to a good home,” Debner says.
But for now, at least, home is Wittenberg.
(Kelsie Evelsizor / firstname.lastname@example.org)