Having a trained service dog can be life changing for individuals who require assistance in day-to-day tasks. Through 4 Paws for Ability, Kent State students can play a major part in influencing the lives of those individuals.

4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit organization based in Xenia, Ohio, trains dogs to become service animals to assist individuals such as children with disabilities and veterans who were injured during combat. The program was also created to bring about awareness for the acceptance of service dogs in public spaces.

4 Paws offers a University Program allowing college students to co-handle a puppy.

“Volunteers help train the dogs in the early stages of training. We help socialize them, and teach them basic commands and manners,” said Jillian Eddy, a freshman engineering technology major who is co-handling her first 4 Paws puppy.

Eddy lives in Prentice Hall and shares her puppy, Bell, with her roommate.

“She's learning basic tricks such as sitting, laying down and heeling. She's also learning more fun tricks like roll over, shake and 'hit it!' where she hits the handicap buttons to open doors,” Eddy said.

The organization requires students to complete both its own application and one through the university before bringing the puppy home.

“An interested student first reaches out directly to 4 Paws and completes their application and vetting process. Once that has occurred, the University Program Coordinator for 4 Paws reaches out to me directly,” said David Taylor, director of housing operations. “I review the application, confirm information and relay approval back to 4 Paws. We then document that information and share it internally with those who need to be aware of the animal. We provide a sticker to be placed on the residence hall door(s) of the student indicating an animal is inside.”

After, co-handlers complete a training course off campus at the 4 Paws facility to gain the skills needed to assist in the program.

Having an animal living in the residence hall can be an big responsibility, and co-handlers must take all things into consideration when deciding to co-handle a 4 Paws puppy.

“Communication with whoever lives in the room is really important before accepting the responsibility of the puppy. Some students are afraid of dogs; others may be allergic. It’s a balance of freedom and working together as a community to not impede on the enjoyment of the residence hall space for those who might not be keen on all the dogs around,” Taylor said.

The significant responsibility of providing 24-hour care to a service dog in the residence hall is also a factor to consider.

“If you don't feel up to the challenge of raising a puppy right off the bat, you should consider becoming a puppy sitter! There's a great support system of sitters and puppy raisers on Kent's campus especially,” Eddy said.

The role of a puppy sitter involves watching over 4 Paws puppies when the puppy’s co-handler is unable to take care of it for a short period of time. This allows the puppies to still be tracked and trained over the course of their time with the students, Taylor said.

To apply to become a co-handler, a sitter or to volunteer in any way, students must complete this application online.

“Bell has kind of become the emotional support dog for the people in our building, especially with finals coming up,” Eddy said. “4 Paws is a great program with a huge support system.”

Leah Marxen covers housing. Contact her at lmarxen@kent.edu.

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