Service Dog In Training Grows Up On The Forty Acres


By Rory Gaudette

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Puget starts his days early, before most students are even awake. He goes to biomedical engineering class, loves being around people and can sometimes get distracted easily.

 

However, Puget is not a normal student. He is a six month old black lab who biomedical engineering senior Krista Polansky is training to become a service dog in partnership with Canine Companions for Independence.

 

Puget will hopefully go on to become either a service dog for adults with disabilities, a hearing dog for the deaf or hard of hearing, or a skilled companion for children or adults with any variety of disabilities.

“It’s like at Hogwarts,” Polansky said. “The dogs get to choose their own destinies.”

 

 

Canine Companions for Independence works to provide people in need with service dogs, free of charge because the cost of a service dog that’s been specially trained for years can be a barrier for people with disabilities.

 

“A seeing eye dog, with all of its training, is $50,000,” Polansky said. “And it will be able to work for about nine years, if you’re lucky. I feel like people with disabilities have enough expenses to deal with.”

 

While the program allows those in need of a service dog to receive one for free, those volunteering to raise and train a dog for a year and a half also are paying for all of the animal’s needs.

 

“I pay for his food and his vet bills, as well as my college,” Polansky said. “That just means less money going into other things outside school.”

 

Walking around the Forty Acres with a black lab in tow is bound to attract other students’ attention, and has lead to some important conversations about perceptions of disability.

 

 

“Some people will come up to me and say “Well, you don’t look disabled,” Polansky said. “And I’ll say “Well, I’m not, but what does disability look like? You can’t see every disability.”

 

Polansky said she would rather be the person these people come up to instead of a kid with juvenile arthritis, who could potentially use a service dog to help them with basic tasks. But most students, of course, all want to know the same thing — can they pet him?

 

“As long as people ask, I’m okay with it,” Polansky said. “You have to remember that you see a service dog maybe once a week, but I’m approached ten, fifteen times a day. We are trying to work on him staying calm, especially around people because he loves people.”

 

While Polansky’s fourth year as a service dog trainer has taken consistent work and occasional sacrifice, it has also led to some unexpected benefits.

 

“It’s definitely a great conversation starter,” Polansky said. “I’ve two letters of recommendation from it, just because all of my professors know me.”