Ah, caring for an energetic but loving puppy who sometimes struggles with walking and occasionally has accidents in public—such is the life of 12 sets of Wittenberg students as they take on the roles of ‘puppy raisers’ for 4 Paws for Ability, according to seniors Abbie Henry and Anna Jackson, Wittenberg’s 4 Paws campus coordinators.
Henry and Jackson said that some of the challenges can be attributed to the young age of the puppies, with one litter being only 3 months old.
“We just have to remember that they are still puppies adjusting to campus life,” Henry said. “It really just boils down to being patient and learning the dogs’ personalities and quirks.”
During the dogs’ time on campus, Jackson and Henry, who are currently working with their third 4 Paws dog, said that they have gotten really attached to the dogs in the past.
“One of the most challenging things is having to say goodbye to the dog,” Jackson said. “It feels like a breakup.”
The dogs at Wittenberg for fall semester are to be socialized on Wittenberg’s campus for three months, with the Wittenberg ‘puppy raisers’ caring for the dogs at their houses and taking the dogs everywhere with them, including classes.
The caretakers are required to be juniors or seniors living in an off-campus house. Additionally, they must go through an application and interview process before being placed with a dog, but they are not required to have previous experience with dogs.
“We really look for people who look at it as more of a service instead of people who are looking for something cool to do,” said Henry.
Jackson said that throughout the application and interview processes, finding people who are able to manage their time is pertinent, as having a dog is a huge time commitment.
The 4 Paws program, which was originally founded in 1998, places approximately 100 service dogs per year for children in need.
Wittenberg was the first campus to host the program on a college campus five years ago, and since then, 4 Paws has expanded, not only in terms of the number of dogs placed on campus, but also in terms of the number of universities involved and the number of countries where dogs are placed, including the U.S., Japan, Switzerland, and Germany, according to Jackson.
If the dogs do make it through to ‘graduation’ of the 4 Paws program after more intensive training at the prison system, the caretakers are invited to the ceremony, and also get to meet the child with whom the dog is placed.
Even though taking care of the dogs can come with challenges, Jackson said that in the end, especially when the caretakers get to see the dog with children, it is all worth it.
“Seeing the dogs with kids—especially the way they gravitate towards kids—moments like that really reaffirm why we do it,” Jackson said.