Raising the “Ruff”

Between working on assignments, essays, exams and socializing in the vivacious atmosphere on campus, certain Wake Forest students also spend time volunteering as “puppy raisers” to train service dogs in their college routines.

Through the help of Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, sophomore Marcie Moore and senior Michael Brown train puppies of their own to become service dogs.

Living with Moore on campus in Efird, Daisy, an English Labrador, travels with her to classes, meals, study sessions and other extra curricular activities to be prepared for her future job as a diabetic alert dog. Brown is currently training Stella, who accompanies him to class, work and even special events on campus.

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers is a non-profit organization that strives to transform the lives of those with Autism, Diabetes, PTSD and Seizure Disorders.

Not only do these dogs significantly impact the lives of those with disabilities, but they also become a member of their family, emotionally changing the owners’ lives forever.

“Not only do they gain a service dog who will be able to alleviate a great deal of stress, worry and discomfort through their work,” Brown said. “The handlers gain a companion who will love them and devote everything to them for as long as they are able.”

It is critical that the dog learns the difference between various settings and stimuli. Moreover, while the service dog wears its vest, it is “on the job” and must learn to assist its owner when needed.

On the other hand, when the service dog is not wearing its vest, it is free to play and interact with its surrounding environment.  “It’s important to teach the dog that when they’re on duty they can’t interact with other people,” Moore said. “When people on campus try to pet a service dog while they’re on duty, it just confuses and distracts them.”

After nine to 18 months of basic training with puppy raisers, the service dogs then work with another trainer who develops skills needed in specific medical situations. Although the puppy raisers grow attached to their service dogs, they also realize their service will reap a greater reward.

“Daisy is my shadow right now, and I love her to death, but she will move on to be more than just a shadow to somebody else,” Moore said. “She’ll be a source of comfort and independence to her new handler, allowing them a better quality of life and a constant companion along the way. Knowing that makes all the challenges totally worth it.”

Aside from the two-hour-a-day training sessions, the experience of a “puppy raiser” fosters positive growth in emotional well-being for those involved.

“It’s definitely made me appreciate my quality of life and my independence,” Moore said. “Working with service dogs has also given me the opportunity to meet more people with diseases that sometime require the help of a service dog, and that’s always a humbling experience as well.”

“These dogs are incredible creatures and seeing them make the fantastic strides in all aspects of their training is the most amazing reward I could have asked for from this experience,” Brown said.

Through Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, any college student can make a difference by volunteering to train a service dog of his or her own.

No matter what the disability may be, a service dog will always be cherished and will positively impact the owner’s life.