Puppies With A Purpose: The Susquehanna Service Dogs
Penn State has a campus full of critters. Everywhere you look, there are bunnies, ducks, squirrels, chipmunks, and even the occasional hawk. But recently, a group of far friendlier and fluffier animals arrived on campus. Maybe you’ve seen them around. They wear purple vests, and can sit on command. And unlike their more feral counterparts, these little pups are training to help those in need. Meet the Susquehanna Service Dogs.
In total, ten service dogs are currently being raised either by students or community members. According to Dr. Nancy Dreschel, the group’s on-campus advisor, each puppy remains with a raiser until they turn 18 months old. Then, the puppies (or dogs, at that point) are sent to SSD’s headquarters in Grantville, PA for further evaluation and training. Ultimately, the dogs will be assigned various positions as service dogs, balance dogs, hearing dogs, and facility dogs in court or school settings. Additionally, SSD pairs their dogs with military veterans to aide them with both physical and mental conditions following service.
Until then, the puppies watched after by their raisers. And being a puppy trainer is not a task for the lighthearted. The time commitment and determination of raising, training, and housing a puppy is extensive, but the current trainers are more than prepared for the job. Samantha McCarthy, trainer of SSD Diego, got involved with the program two years ago after attending a “Wild About Animals” expo on campus. SSD had a booth with a demo dog, and it quickly caught her attention. After completing the necessary classes, McCarthy and Dr. Dreschel started the Penn State branch of SSD. “Most of the other students have become raisers after seeing the dogs in classes, or around campus and deciding that they too wanted to change a life by raising a puppy,” McCarthy said.
The puppies live with their trainers during those eighteen months, but frequently bring them into public to help with their training. “A number of students are also qualified to be puppy sitters to give the puppy raisers a break and to increase the experiences of the puppies,” Dreschel said.
The training for the puppies is rigorous and important. They must attend classes to learn new skills and receive evaluations throughout their training. The puppies must master self-control and learning to problem solve on their own. Katie Keith, one of the puppy raisers, is currently raising SSD Cooper. According to Keith, the puppies are to be on their best behavior in public. That way, the pups are constantly getting exposed to new things and people in order to help them with through the training process.
When the puppies aren’t training, they live a typical pet life. “When they are not walking around campus or training they are just normal dogs,” Yvette Gramignano said, trainer of SSD Parmigiana.
Keep your eyes out for the puppies and trainers around campus. And check out SSD’s website for more information