We’ve all seen them on campus. In class, outside of White Hall, and even on the intramural field, UK’s friendliest faces seem to be everywhere these days—including The Study! Ladies and gentlemen, meet Jarka.
Jarka, pictured here with trainer Kelsey Hiatt, is one of many dogs currently in UK’s chapter of 4 Paws for Ability and is a frequent visitor at The Study where Kelsey’s co-trainer, Gabby Woods, is a tutor.
Brought to campus in 2009, “4 Paws for Ability” is based out of Xenia, Ohio and its chapter here at UK has grown to include almost 30 members. In the program, students are given a 5-6 month old service dog for a semester in order to help socialize and reinforce training.
So how does it work?
The 4 Paws process starts months before the puppies even set paw on campus. Before they are given to a student, each puppy participates in a prison program where inmates potty-train them and begin to teach them basic commands like “sit” and “down.” Most of the dogs used in the program are bred by 4 Paws but occasionally the organization receives puppy donations. While the puppies are mainly breeds like Golden Retrievers, Golden Doodles, Labradoodles, or Lab Retrievers, smaller dogs such as Papillion are sometimes used too.
Once arriving at UK, the dogs are given special service vests and are allowed to go anywhere the student goes as they socialize the dogs. "This is important because when the dog is placed with a family, they will be going everywhere the family goes, " says UK chapter President Caitie Little. "The dog should be comfortable around anyone and in any situation."
Besides socializing the dogs, student trainers are also required to attend a monthly meeting. Here, a trainer from 4 Paws headquarters comes down and teaches the student trainers what commands and tricks he or she should be working on with their dogs. This is also a time to refresh and reload on puppy supplies that 4 Paws provides. Along with the food, toys, crates and other supplies, 4 Paws also covers any other costs associated with taking care of the puppy.
Once they have spent the semester at UK, the puppies return to Xenia to continue advanced training. In this phase, puppies are taught specific things to help them best serve the families they will be placed in. For example, the dogs might learn how to fetch things for an owner that might be in a wheelchair, or they might learn to track a child in case the parent’s lose them from their sight. Puppies can even be trained to alert someone before they’re about to have a seizure!
4 Paws for Ability trains dogs for Autism Assistance, Mobility Assistance, Seizure Assistance, FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) uses, Veteran Service, Hearing Ear use and other multipurpose uses. Her trainer Kelsey says that knowing what Jarka will be doing in the future is one of the best parts of participating in the program.“I love that I get to share with everyone just what she’s going to do! She’ll be a service dog for a family that needs her much more than I do.” This, says Kelsey, is what makes it easier to deal with the idea of parting with Jarka at the end of the semester.
So how do you get involved with “4 Paws for Ability?”
First, since the dog lives with you, you have to be an off-campus student or an RA. Also, the program requires that you’re at least a sophomore. Second, you have to be chosen. Applicants should be enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity but also ready for the responsibility and seriousness of their role as student trainer since the dogs will be working. Applications are reviewed prior to the start of each semester and interviews scheduled to determine who gets a dog.
Due to high interest, students aren’t allowed to be a trainer for two semesters in a row but can always volunteer to be a “sitter” for when the dog’s owner is busy. All of the spots for the Fall semester have been filled but applications for Spring 2013 will be given out around the beginning of November. To get one, or to ask any other questions, students can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://lmbrig2.wix.com/4-paws-at-uk .