Rutgers University pairs up service dogs in training with stressed college students who could use a furry friend to aid them.
College life is never as easy as depicted in films and fiction. The burden of exams, writing papers at the last minute, compiling a thesis and attending classes puts a lot of stress on young students trying their best to survive college life. However, one university has recognized this issue, which is hardly addressed and has taken a great initiative to help the stressed-out students. The Rutgers University in New Jersey became one of the two colleges other than the University of Delaware to pair service dogs-in-training with college students, per Good News Network.
These young academics and puppies, who are training for their own canine careers, were brought together by Rutgers University Seeing Eye Puppy Raising Club (RUSEPRC). The Seeing Eye is the oldest guide dog school in the U.S. and they have been training hundreds of pooches to accompany blind people each year. But before these dogs graduate from their canine academy, they have some more training to do in order to become reliable guide dogs.
They have joined hands with the university to host 10 to 25 students who will be responsible for fostering the puppies as they go through the initial stage of their training and also provide comfort to their temporary owners. The club has recruited dozens of student dog sitters like Ethan Saul. He told the outlet, "Luckily, a lot of raisers are animal science majors that can bring their dog to work," Saul, a 20-year-old business major at the university, said. "If they can't, there's lots of sitters like me who are happy to help watch them."
Saul also admitted that interacting with the dogs is probably his favorite thing about being at the university. "Being a student in the business school, I spend a lot of my time studying for classes like accounting or statistics, which is very dry and boring," Saul added. "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. So coming home to a furry animal that only wants love is the best."
The initiative not only helps the students relieve some of their stress but also contributes to helping the puppies socialize, which is an essential aspect of their training. "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 the outlet.
"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 said. "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 situation."
The club and the participating students have raised over 200 service dogs as of 2019. In case a dog in training fails to pass the tests to become a service dog, the students who raise them can opt to adopt them. Saul further revealed that those dogs are often sent to live with "a family from a waiting list that is years long." The RUSEPRC members admitted that getting paired up with these fur buddies was a life-changing experience.
"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," Cruz said. "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. I know that I wouldn't be myself if it wasn't for this program."