By Kyle Searer
Strapped in their little red vests, 19 service puppies in training made their way around campus amongst students and faculty this spring semester.
The puppies are candidates to become elite service dogs that are placed by 4 Paws for Ability.
The non-profit organization was established in 1998 by Karen Shirk to “fill a gap” in placing service dogs with children and veterans.
Miami University students partner with 4 Paws for Ability through a university program designed to enhance socialization and obedience training. The organization has over 100 active members. Members can choose to become foster parents or puppy-sitters through a strict application and interview process, or just assist in fundraising and educating the public.
Much like their human counterpart, these furry scholars are on campus to learn and develop important skills for their future. Also similar to students, future service dogs spend lots of time socializing and hanging out with friends. Socialization is an important part of training dogs for service. Service dogs have to be comfortable in any setting, so training them on a college campus is ideal.
Puppies can be spotted everywhere; they go out to eat Uptown, to basketball games, to study sessions and even to class. They participate in the college life right alongside their foster parents. In many ways, these furry young scholars are exactly like college students, therefore benefiting tremendously by participating in experiences with them.
4 Paws for Ability foster parent and trainer, Jake Knight, enjoys the attention he gets walking across campus with Hilde, a Golden Lab, whom sports a red and white bandana matching her vest.
“It kind of feels like I am some type of celebrity. Everyone looks at me when I pass by and tons of people want to stop and pet her,” he says with a smile. Student handlers benefit from more than just a little social boost. Students acknowledge learning and improving important skills such as public speaking and time management.
Incoming president of 4 Paws for Ability at Miami, Kelsie Foster, remembers having a difficult time adjusting to life on campus before joining the organization.
“Joining 4 Paws changed things for me,” Foster said. “I met awesome people that became my friends and I found something to do that I was passionate about.”
For Kelsie, the organization became an important part of her life on campus. She has fostered multiple puppies and acknowledges it is an emotional day when it comes time to part ways, “Sending them off is sad, but it is also gratifying. I understand how much they will improve someone’s life one day and that is great to be a part of that.”
At the end of the semester, puppies who are old enough prepare for their own version of a final exam. If they pass their evaluation, they move to advanced training where they learn advanced skills to help people with disabilities.
Katie Ash handles and socializes Flea, a Golden Retriever who hopes his name will never attract the irritable insects. Katie also loves being part of an organization that is able to help and positively impact the lives