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DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) – A yellow English Labrador is among the newest members of the Loras College campus community this fall.
Toksi, a service dog in training, goes to class with student Ciera Hansen to help her classmates get used to seeing service animals at school. This will come in handy when students begin to take an active role in training assistance dogs on campus.
“A lot of people think it’s just a pet, (that) you can go up to her and talk to her, pet her,” Hansen told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. “Seeing the vest, I think he starts to click with them (that) he’s no ordinary dog.”
Hansen is the president and founder of DuDawgs, a Loras club through which students raise and train service dogs and educate about the roles animals play.
Eventually, students will begin training dogs on behalf of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, non-profit Deafinately Dogs! Their efforts will help the nonprofit serve more people, while also helping community members understand the impact service dogs can have, said Sherry Steine Ross, co-founder of the organization.
“It’s just an amazing service that (students) can provide to the community,” she says.
Hansen started raising and training service dogs with his mother when Hansen was in high school. During Hansen’s first year at Loras, she created DuDawgs to continue her efforts.
This year, the group’s students are raising funds to support their efforts to bring dogs to campus. They also discuss with the Loras community how to behave appropriately with service dogs.
Hansen worked with Deafinately Dogs! to house Toksi in Loras so that people can get used to having a service animal on campus. Toksi’s presence also serves to help the Dubuque community as a whole learn more about service animals, Hansen said.
“A lot of people love to see her,” she says. “I’m going to walk to a classroom and I’m just going to see everyone have a good time.”
DuDawgs members plan to bring three or four dogs to campus next year. Each dog will have a student as the head trainer, and other members of the group will help with the process.
Deafinely Dogs! will provide students with puppies to live with on campus and visit students to give training classes and provide instruction so that students have the skills to work with dogs, Ross said. The animals will ultimately be placed as post-traumatic stress dogs, hearing dogs, or professional facility dogs.
“It takes two years, but from start to finish (the students) will be part of the process from potty training to placement,” said Ross.
College campuses can serve as a valuable training ground for assistance dogs, as animals are exposed to diverse environments with people of different cultures and abilities.
“They need to be exposed to as much stuff as possible because it’s brand new to them if they haven’t seen it,” Ross said.
Student efforts make Deafinately Dogs possible! train more service animals and, in turn, place them with more people, she said.
While raising dogs, DuDawgs members will also help with efforts such as marketing, fundraising and outreach, said Jake Kurczek, assistant professor of neuroscience and psychology who serves as an advisor to DuDawgs.
These efforts, in turn, allow the students to have a significant impact on the life of whoever ultimately receives the dogs, Kurczek said.
“I think it’s a good highlight to show the students who are dedicated to tracking their learning in the classroom and applying it in the community,” he said.