Melanie Repella - President 4 Paws Ohio State
“Atlantis”. I stared at that name for what felt like days during my initial 4 Paws orientation. Today I have sat through more than six orientations and I could probably give the orientation if I ever needed to. I could see his crate against the side of the room and the corner of a big white cone sticking out. “I would get the dog with a cone on his head” I thought to myself. Finally, we were allowed to meet our pup and even though I’m sure it goes without being said, I fell in love.
And then the orientation was over and I was leaving 4 Paws with a dog. I went to a meeting and strangers just handed me a dog; I was nervous, excited, and thrilled. I had no puppy sitters, hadn’t gotten to know Lynn the other foster on campus yet, and was an hour away from 4 Paws for Ability. What in the world had I jumped into?! Atlantis was a challenge. A loveable, goofy, adorable challenge and he was mine. Atlantis had this thing where he didn’t always like walking. And by that, I mean he would lay on the sidewalk in the middle of February in 10 degrees and just stare up at me. And that was that. There were days I was so late to class I picked up my fifty-pound dog and carried him from South to North campus because no amount of treats or encouragement was enough for him that day. He had a bad habit of pooping on the sidewalk and loved to jump up on people. So throughout the semester we worked on our commands, walking, pottying, and everything else.
Then, all of a sudden, it was time to give him back. I cried. My boyfriend at the time drove me to drop him off. On the way home he kept telling me things such as “you did a great thing, don’t be sad”. After about five minutes of his positive, sympathetic comments I lost it screaming “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT JUST LET ME CRY AND STOP TALKING”. Thankfully silence ensued and I cried because in one day I lost my first dog and my best friend and I couldn’t even explain to him what was happening. That someone who needed him more was going to get him and be so incredibly happy. I couldn’t tell him that our arrangement had only been temporary all along, but that I would love him forever.
An incredible thing happened that semester as well. Lynn Agee, the other Ohio State foster, and I worked to turn 4 Paws for Ability into a club on OSU’s campus. We gave information sessions and reviewed applications and then that summer we had more dogs on campus and I had a sensitive collie named Amar. We had even more dogs on campus in the fall and it continued to grow.
When Lynn graduated the fall of my junior year I was able to become president of this amazing organization. Over the past year and a half, being president has been filled with amazing moments and serious struggles. I have learned much more about working with humans than with animals (take my word for it; animals are easier). Someone who led 4 Paws for Ability at a different university once told me “you can’t make everyone happy. All you can do is do what is best for these dogs and the organization as a whole and if you do that, then you are doing your job.” I needed to hear this. Over the time I have faced criticism and attempted to use this to better our organization. But, I never intended to make everyone happy. I have selected handlers who I think will be most successful and dedicated, enforced rules even if this makes me unpopular at times, and put the success and health of each and every dog first and foremost. Being president of this organization includes tough decisions and sleepless nights. But it also teaches you leadership and strength. I am able to leave Ohio State knowing that I played a part in the lives of every service dog here at OSU and the families that they touch.
I’ve fostered six dogs throughout my time here. Atlantis. Amar. Shrek. Raguel. Gally. Saul. I love each in their own unique way. Atlantis was my first dog love. Amar was the most loyal, sensitive dog I have ever had. Shrek was goofy and independent; he always wanted to be around you, but he never liked to cuddle too close. Raguel, my longest foster, arrived in my life just when I needed him most and was feeling very lost and alone. He just had a way of knowing when I was upset and would curl up next to me and lay his head on my chest. Then when he went up for adoption for suspicious barking, he was placed with an amazing family. I still get to see him monthly after every 4 Paws meeting in Xenia and love his new family just as much as I love him. Gally was a lover. He needed to be around you, in your face and licking you, every second of every day. He is currently being worked for advanced training.
This semester I took on one of my biggest challenges yet – raising a puppy. I picked Saul up at eight weeks of age. Now he is fourteen weeks and is already doing so well with training. 4 Paws for Ability has been my passion here at Ohio State. It is what made my experience unique and helped me to make a difference on such a large campus. On a personal level, I have grown as a leader and more importantly, a human. When 4 Paws was new on campus I regularly received stares and comments when I entered places such as restaurants. I have heard “what disability does she have?” whispered in the background. It has made me reflect on acceptance for not only people with disabilities, but all people who are different for any reason. On a larger scale, 4 Paws has allowed me to educate the public on service dogs and change the lives of families all over the country and the world. So as I spend my final semester as the president of 4 Paws for Ability I hope that I am able to solidify my message of acceptance, passion, and empathy amongst our club here on campus. If you have been a foster, puppy sitter, or supported this organization while on campus then I cannot thank you enough from the bottom of my heart for seeing the beauty in what we do; I hope that you feel I have led you well and are able to see my love for this program. While it is certainly time to move on, I know that I will struggle to let go. 4 Paws for Ability – both my dogs and the people I have met – have changed me as a person and for that I am forever grateful. As I move on from this organization I know that every soul – animal and human – I’ve encountered will travel with me on my future adventures and throughout life.
With Six Sets of Paw Prints on My Heart.