Program gives students a chance to train service dogs

When Coal doesn’t get to go to class, he will lie on the floor, feeling dejected.

Coal is a service dog. His owner Bridget Evans, external chair for the Applied Health Sciences student council, organized an informational meeting for students who are interested in training service dogs.

“I think it’s a unique opportunity. There’s no other college campuses that do this,” Evans said.

Service dogs are specially trained to assist a disabled person with daily living skills such as picking up an object from the floor or pulling a wheelchair.

“Coal’s really useful for me because he pulls me around campus in my wheelchair,” said Evans, who is a senior in Community Health. “It really helps me get through the day and gives me independence.”

Evans said Coal enjoys his job.

“He loves coming places with me,” she said. “He loves having a purpose; he loves having a job to do. He feels fulfilled.”

The AHS student council is partnering with MidAmerica Service Dogs’ Foundation Inc. to get University students to train service dogs. Students from all majors are eligible, but sophomores and juniors are preferred. Interviews will be held either Monday or Wednesday starting at 6:30 p.m. in 114 Huff Hall.

It will take the whole year to train the dogs, and they will be trained to pick things up, open doors, turn on lights and know wheelchair etiquette, Evans said.

“We’ll take them on public outings to the mall, to restaurants, so they’ll be ready for the person with a disability,” she said. “I think you gain an enriching experience overall. “You gain a knowledge of disability culture and disability rights.”

There are about 10 students on campus with service dogs.

“Our thought is maybe we can give one of the service dogs that is trained here to a student that goes here,” she said.

Two dogs will be trained on campus starting this January. Students will do the basic training.

There will be one primary caretaker for each dog, who keeps the dog in their home. There will be about five secondary trainers, who work with the dog individually for a few hours each week.

Jack Giambrone, director of training at MidAmerica, said it is a unique experience because students will be taking a dog from the beginning when they have no training.

Giambrone used Linus, a retired service dog, to demonstrate techniques such as picking up a cane.

Melanie Wolf, freshman in AHS, said she came to the meeting because she thought it would be a good volunteer experience. After attending the meeting, she was impressed.

“You can really help people who have disabilities for the rest of their lives,” Wolf said.