College can be a stressful time for aspiring young academics – but one university has found a perfect solution for easing the minds of anxious students while simultaneously preparing puppies for their own canine careers.
Credited as the oldest guide dog school in the United States, The Seeing Eye is responsible for training hundreds of seeing eye dogs for the blind every year. Prior to graduating from the famed canine academy, however, the young German shepherds, retrievers, and Labradors need to be properly trained and prepared for their future roles as guide dogs.
That’s where Rutgers University comes in; the New Jersey school is just one of two colleges in the nation (University of Delaware is the other) that pairs these guide dogs-in-training with college students.
The Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club (RUSEPRC) typically hosts 10 to 25 student “raisers” who take on the main responsibility of fostering the puppy while it goes through its preliminary stages of training.
Taking care of a rambunctious puppy can be difficult for any pet owner, let alone a student who is already trying to balance a typical college course load – but that’s why the club also recruits dozens of “sitters” like Ethan Saul.
In addition to being a junior year student at the school and a roommate to one of the club’s raisers, the 20-year-old business major is just one of the club’s many sitters who delights in petsitting the pups as needed.
“Luckily, a lot of raisers are animal science majors that can bring their dog to work,” Saul told Good News Network. “If they can’t, there’s lots of sitters like me who are happy to help watch them.”
In fact, he told GNN that interacting with the dogs is his “favorite thing” about this university.
“Being a student in the business school, I spend a lot of my time studying for classes like accounting or statistics… very dry and boring,” says Saul. “Being able to see a dog on campus, let alone being able to live with one, is amazing! It really relieves a lot of stress for us.
“As you know, school is exhausting and stressful,” he added. “So coming home to a furry animal that only wants love is the best.”
While the students are devoted to socializing the puppies and giving them mounds of affection, they also provide a very important aspect of the dogs’ training, which is helping to expose the dogs to as many different sights, smells, environments, and experiences as possible.
“From the second we get them, we shower them with a lot of love and we work on their basic obedience and commands – but the most important aspect of the training that we do with them is the exposure training,” RUSEPRC President Emily Cruz told GNN.
“We never know what type of person they will guide or in what kind of environment they will guide in. They may guide a retired man living in Florida or maybe a young woman with kids teaching at a college in a big city. The possibilities are endless!” she added. “Therefore, we make sure to expose them to many different people, places, sights, sounds, environments, and experiences to ensure that they are the most confident guide dog in every and any situation.”
The club has collectively raised over 200 guide dogs. If any of the canines fail to make the cut as a service animal, then the raiser has first dibs on its adoption – otherwise, Saul says that they are often sent to live with “a family from a waiting list that is years long.”
That being said, the RUSEPRC club members are quick to say how life-changing the program has been for them during their college careers.
“This program has not only helped make a difference in the lives of blind people, but also has shaped the lives of hundreds of Rutgers students,” says Cruz.
“It might not be easy to give [the dogs] back up, but knowing that they are doing bigger things in the world and knowing that you played a part in that swells everyone involved with pride.”
“While we teach our puppies a lot, they teach us so much in return,” she added. “I know that I wouldn’t be myself if it wasn’t for this program.”
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