I began my undergraduate career at Ohio State in the fall of 2016. The first few weeks of college were full of new faces, places, and realizing I was now on my own, three hours from home. During this time, I looked forward to the Involvement Fair held on the Oval, which is a scene that every college freshman dreams of when looking to get involved on campus. Out of several hundred booths I found the 4 Paws for Ability booth. Initially, I was attracted to the sight of dogs, then I realized that this was a group that I could actually be a part of – so I signed up.
Upon attending the first meeting I learned the background and goals of the new club I had joined, and I learned about a great first-step to becoming more involved: puppy sitting. Throughout the course of my first semester I submitted an application, continued to attend general meetings, and was interviewed by current members to become a puppy sitter. When I received the email that I was selected to be a puppy sitter I felt like I finally had a group on campus that I belonged in. I tried astronomy club, ecology club, and an engineering club where we built a dune buggy from scratch to race. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these clubs, but they weren’t for me. Animals are my passion and they have been since I can remember. So, I sat back and waited for orientation to become official.
During orientation I learned all the hand signals and vocal tones the 4 Paws dogs on campus would be used to while also learning about all of the do’s and don’ts of handling. After this, it was time to puppy sit for the first time. On the way to receive my first dog, Roku, I became extremely anxious and nervous. I had a fear of messing up or doing something wrong in front of a ton of people, and yes, these are rational fears because when you have a dog and no one else does, all eyes are on you. However, all these fears immediately disappeared when I saw Roku for the first time. My heart started to smile and I knew we were about to have a great couple of hours together. First we went to the dining hall so that I could eat dinner and upon our entrance to the dining hall all eyes were on us. Well, let me rephrase, all eyes were on Roku first, then they shifted to me. And when they shifted to me I saw smiles on people’s faces. Some people asked to pet him and their smiles grew while some continued to observe and smile from a distance, but I knew that he was making their day all the while. Once I was able to gather my food, Roku and I went upstairs and I had my food while he had his. During this time we bonded as I was also excessively happy from being in his presence. I began to brush Roku hair from my pants when all of a sudden his head was resting on my thigh and I realized I had been doing the hand signal for “lap”. Immediately I knew this whole semester to come will be full of moments, such as this, where these service dogs in training would continually surprise me while teaching me as I would to help teach them.
Today, I am very thankful to be a part of the 4 Paws for Ability club on campus. Even though I have not spent a lot of time with the group or the dogs thus far, it has already begun to provide a new light in my life that was greatly needed. Within the past two months my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Due to the second semester of school starting, I was unable to be there for her surgery or to help her afterwards. Being only three hours from home, but unable to be there I began to feel trapped. Each day became repetitive and I found myself in a dull state where I was, neither happy nor sad, only longing to be home. The first day I spent with Roku, I truly believe he felt this emotion radiating from me as all he wanted to do was be close to me. As I was sitting on the curb waiting to return him he plopped himself down in front of me, rolled up on his side, and looked up at me as if to say “Are you going to rub my belly or not?”. From seeing the joy he brought to so many people to this moment before returning him, I knew he had begun to mend my emotional wounds. Several times, I have caught myself smiling at him while he has had his mouth wide open smiling back.
Since my first time with Roku I have puppy-sat several other dogs. Tuxedo and I go to the basketball courts, sometimes two times in a day, to release his puppy energy. While watching him romp and play, you can’t help but smile at his long poodle legs that carry him a long distance in a short amount of time.
Twiggy and I attended our first Ohio State gymnastics meet together where she gained great exposure to the loud noise of the band and the yelling of the gymnasts to encourage each other. While eating dinner at Qdoba, Twiggy napped underneath the table as I ate. When I got up and Twiggy emerged from under the table several people made comments as to how they didn’t even know there was a dog under there because she was so well behaved. From orientation I learned that it is very important to make sure the dogs are not a disturbance in public because when they are paired with their future family they should be in tune with, and listening to, their handler instead of their surroundings.
The other dog I have had the chance to puppy sit since orientation has been Konda. Like Tuxedo and I, we played twice in a matter of four hours to release his energy. The greatest lesson being with these dogs has taught me thus far is their willingness to comfort and learn new things will never be extinguished. The joy I received from Konda staying in a down while I bounced around him for a minute matched the joy he showed once he was freed and knew he had remained in a down the whole time. When Konda looks at me, I can see him asking when he will learn something new. It is this enthusiasm and hard work towards progressing to be a service dog that makes me so excited to continue puppy sitting. All these dogs display this willingness in different ways through their own personalities, but I promise it is there.
All the events above occurred within a week. One week. Isn’t that amazing? Not only are these dogs changing my life, but they are changing the lives of everyone they come in contact with in a positive way. And I know that one day they will change the life of a child forever.