Some special four-legged friends will soon arrive on the Bridgewater State University campus through a new student organization, Bear Paws for Puppy Paws.
History Professor Dr. Brian Payne is the catalyst behind the new club that uses student volunteers to train dogs as service animals for the visual impaired. The initiative is a partnership with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a New York-based nonprofit organization.
Students will work in teams to train the dogs over the course of 12-13 months. The animals then travel to Guiding Eyes for their final leg of training before being paired with someone who is visually impaired.
“The dogs will live with students, travel with them from their dorms, to the cafeteria. and students will work with the dog on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis,” Payne said. “I think this program will work great here at Bridgewater State because Bridgewater has all the various environments that a dog might have to work in. The university is kind of like a little city.”
Payne has long been involved with Guiding Eyes and is currently training Dory, an 8-month-old German Shephard. He admits, after spending a year with a dog, it can be difficult to part ways, but the payoff is worth it.
“The sense of reward and satisfaction that you get from providing such an unbelievable gift for somebody that you don’t know, that you have no connection to, is such a powerful experience to have,” Payne said.
Junior Tara Morrissette, a history and secondary education major, and sophomore Caitlyn Dorsey, a social work major, are board members of Bear Paws for Puppy Paws.
Tara plans to work as a puppy raiser while Caitlyn intends to serve as a sitter, filling in the gaps when raisers need a break from training.
“I think the prospect of playing a direct part in helping a large community, that’s what appeals to me most,” Caitlyn said.
Tara, who lives on campus, sometimes misses her own pets at home and is looking forward to working with a dog at school.
“It will be a lot of work, but also provide a nice level of comfort,” she said.
When it comes time to give up the pup, Caitlin said it might be hard but she appreciates the larger picture.
“You might think that you need this dog, but not as much as somebody who is visually impaired does,” she said.
For students looking to volunteer, this is a great opportunity, Payne said. You do not need to have any experience working with dogs, just a lot of patience and the time to dedicate to the program. You don’t have to work as a sitter or raiser, there are administrative volunteer positions as well.
“I think this a particularly good opportunity because it’s so intense and takes a lot of time, energy and emotion…but you’re ultimately providing an unbelievable gift to somebody you’ve never met,” he said.
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