UTD Goes to the Dogs
Members of a new club at UTD are raising puppies that may go on to be service dogs. They are (from left) Aubrey Rowan and Colby, Andrew Lautzenheiser and Blythe, and Kaylie Kruppa and Erie.
UT Dallas junior Aubrey Rowan has a constant companion while she pursues a degree in business administration.
Wherever she goes, she is shadowed by Colby, a 4-month-old Labrador puppy who is training to become an assistance dog for people with disabilities.
Colby lives with Rowan in her apartment on campus and even accompanies her to class. His service vest indicates he is officially on loan from Canine Companions for Independence.
The nonprofit organization will eventually train dogs like Colby with the advance commands they need to serve as assistant dogs for children and adults with disabilities.
“It’s such a blessing for these people. When you hear their stories, you can’t help but want to be part of it,” Rowan said.
Rowan is now helping to lead a new student organization – aptly named UTD Sit – whose goal is to raise awareness for Canine Companions and recruit students, faculty and staff to become puppy raisers.
Members volunteer to raise specially bred puppies from 8 weeks to 1.5 years old, teaching them basic commands and socialization skills. The work of these volunteers, together with donations from supporters, ensures that Canine Companions can provide highly trained assistance dogs free of charge to people with disabilities.
Those trained as service dogs will perform daily tasks such as turning on lights, picking up dropped keys, pushing buttons for elevators and pulling their owner in a manual wheelchair. Hearing dogs can recognize and respond to the sound of a doorbell, alarm clock, someone calling a name or a smoke alarm, and then alert their person through physical contact such as a nudge to the leg or arm.
For now, Colby needs some loving guidance to acquire good puppy manners and a little more discipline. Rowan is up to the challenge, armed with a hefty training manual and set of rules.
“When they’re out of their kennel, you really have to keep an eye on them,” Rowan said. “They’re not supposed to eat anything off the floor, even their own food.”
From left: Colby, Erie and Blythe wear gentle leaders while they learn good puppy manners.
UTD Sit founder and current president Lendon Burnett, a finance senior and an Army veteran, said a university is an ideal place to raise puppies. UT Dallas is one of 18 colleges involved in the Canine Companions collegiate puppy-raising program.
“College students are passionate, caring and wanting to make a difference in the world,” Burnett said. “They also have the time and limited responsibilities. In the time it takes to get a degree, you can raise one or even two puppies, without the strings attached to owning a dog.”
Crowded walkways and buildings on campus allow plenty of opportunities for socialization, and taking them to class trains them to be calm and quiet in varied groups of people.
“We don’t have yards for them, which is a bummer,” Rowan said. “But you can still go on walks around campus every day.”
Students also benefit: Raising a puppy teaches students patience, persistence, time management and responsibility.
No previous experience is necessary to be a puppy raiser. Volunteers attend an orientation and twice monthly obedience classes. Students must be 18 years or older, be a full-time student in good standing and have already completed their first full year of college. Students also can apply to become puppy sitters and fill in for a few hours while a puppy raiser is in class or has a few errands to run.
Sandy Farrar, associate dean of operations for the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC) and advisor for UTD Sit, raised a puppy named Reese who is now a service dog. She and her husband, Eric Farrar, an associate professor and associate dean of undergraduate studies for ATEC, encourage other faculty and staff to participate in the program.
“Part of your heart goes with the puppy you raised, but seeing how much they will change someone’s life for the better makes it all worthwhile,” she said. “Once you attend a Canine Companions graduation, you’ll be hooked.”
For Rowan, the experience is well worth the time and effort.
“Colby always gets so excited when I walk into the apartment. How could you not love this?” she said.
Members of UTD Sit walk their puppies across campus so they can learn obedience and socialization skills.