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Davis, California

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Puppy Pals extends a paw to service dogs and handlers on campus

Puppy Pals club provides support for service dogs and their handlers and a space for education, fundraisers and socials

With the ongoing cultural obsession with dogs, it’s no surprise that a club emerged on campus that is entirely dedicated to the furry companions. Puppy Pals, however, is much more than just a group that appreciates puppies and dogs.

According to third-year, wildlife, fish and conservation major Lysi Newman, the events and outreach coordinator for Puppy Pals, the club is dedicated to supporting service dogs, service dogs in training and their handlers as well as educating others about them.

“We also provide opportunities for students to get more involved whether it’s about service dogs and what they do or helping us with education and fundraising for local organizations that train service dogs,” Newman said. “We also provide pathways for student[s] who want to become puppy sitters or puppy raisers for [service] dogs in training.”

The founding members of Puppy Pals started the club last Fall Quarter. The club holds general meetings about once a month, but the timing and topics of these meetings fluctuates. The club holds many events throughout the quarter, and third-year genetics major Serene Liu, who is vice president of Puppy Pals, said that around 100 people attend each event. The club hold a social event for their members every quarter, and they also partner with other clubs to do puppy therapy events.

“People love the puppies and our puppies love to be pet by everybody,” O’Rourke said. “It helps us practice proper greetings with our dogs too.”

The club also holds a fundraiser every quarter to raise money for service dog organizations, such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, Canine Companions for Independence and Starfleet Service Dogs. For Valentine’s Day, Puppy Pals members tabled in the Memorial Union and sold Valentine’s Day grams to fundraiser for these causes.

O’Rourke, who is a puppy raiser herself, said that she wanted to help Puppy Pals bring together students who raise puppies. Their job is to take in service dogs in training for about a year and a half to teach them basic training and obedience. They train them with over 30 commands and socialize them.

“I thought at a place like UC Davis with all of the animal science around, why don’t we have a club already?” O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke’s current puppy, Fergus, who she raises for Canine Companions, will go on to become a service dog and help people with a wide range of disabilities, such as those in wheelchairs, veterans with PTSD or those with hearing impairments.

Members of Puppy Pals who lack the time to become a puppy raiser can become puppy sitters. According to Newman, in order to be a puppy sitter or puppy raiser, you must be a paid member of the club. It is $10 per quarter or if a person signs up in Fall Quarter, it’s $25 for the year.

“For puppy raisers, if we have a chemistry or biology lab or a super important midterm that we need just a few hours of uninterrupted time to study, puppy sitters are there to take the dog off our hands for a couple hours,” O’Rourke said.

For O’Rourke and the other founding members of the club, another contributing factor in its creation was to provide support for students with service dogs on campus.

“As a freshman, I experienced a lot of hardship having a service dog,” Newman said. “It felt like there weren’t really resources for people with service dogs.”

First-year animal science and management major Isa Rutten has two service dogs with her on campus. Winston is a psychiatric service dog and her new dog, Groot, helps her with mobility.

“[Winston] has been an awesome icebreaker,” Rutten said. “Just having him here has made me [want] to actually stay in college, which is a huge thing.”

Rutten is also one of five members who take part in the Puppy Pals support group for students with service dogs.

“I have been to a lot of their meetings and that community is really nice,” Rutten said. “It is actually incredibly helpful to be able to go and talk to other service dog handlers on campus and just talk about the things we do that most people do not understand.”

Another reason for creating the club was to provide students and the greater Davis community with more education about service dogs. Most conflicts with service dogs stem from people not knowing any better, as opposed to people trying to do something against the rules, according to Newman.

“We feel like our campus community could learn a lot about what is polite when you meet a service dog,” Liu said. “Everyone loves dogs but no one is really certain what is allowed and what isn’t, and a lot of times it’s because they don’t know that they [could] do something that could distract the dog.”

Puppy Pals also wants to provide more education about having pet dogs on campus, since many times they may distract service dogs at work, according to Liu.

“One of the biggest problems is pet dogs in lecture, they might be barking or trying to come and say, ‘Hi!’ to a service dog and that distracts a service dog, and also the entire class, and the professor may feel the need to say, ‘Hey, can you not bring your service dog to class,’” Liu said.

According to Rutten, she is helping to start an education committee through Puppy Pals.

“We are trying to make something to inform RAs about service dogs because they don’t know that much,” Rutten said. “It’s nothing on them, it’s just education being lost because service dogs aren’t that common.”

The club;s next general meeting is on Feb. 27. A guest speaker, who is a graduate from Canine Companions for Independence, will be speaking about her service dogs and how they have affected her life, according to Newman. To get in contact with Puppy Pals, visit its website davispuppypals.weebly.com or its Aggielife, Facebook or Instagram page @davispuppypals.

“We just want to make sure there is more education at universities in general and more people can raise, if they want to raise, because it is such a vital thing to be able to raise a dog,” Rutten said.

Written by: Margo Rosenbaum — features@theaggie.org


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