A new partnership between Leader Dogs for the Blind and Rochester College is giving students a new assignment: Raising puppies.
Leader Dogs has a consistent need for volunteer puppy raisers. Puppy raisers care for puppies for about 12 months, then return the puppies so they can complete their training and be assigned to visually impaired clients. The organization has been training leader dogs in Rochester Hills since 1939. Since then, more than 14,000 dogs have been placed with legally blind handlers in every state except Hawaii.
Josh Allen and Logan.
The idea for the project came about in a visit to Leader Dogs for the Blind by students in Rochester College's Center for Social Entrepreneurship program.
"The idea was hatched to consider using Rochester College as a puppy raising community, similar to the way that Leader Dogs for the Blind has started puppy raising community in prisons
," says Scott Cagnet, who serves as the college's assistant dean of student engagement. "So we are taking one of our residence halls that hadn't been occupied for a couple of years and we are reconfiguring it to allow it to be a co-ed residence hall that will allow for a good puppy raising environment."
After a competitive application process, Rochester College student Joshua Allen and puppy Logan became the first student-puppy pairing on Friday, April 28. Over the next two months five more student-puppy pairings will be made.
"We believe this is a first-of-its-kind program in Michigan and may be a first-of-its-kind in the nation between and service dog organization and a private college," says Jaymes Vettraino, director of the college's Center for Social Entrepreneurship."While it will be an amazing opportunity for the students that are selected to raise puppies, I'm most excited about the potential impact the program can have on the entire campus in terms of understanding the importance of Leader Dogs for the Blind and the social good impacts that non-profits have on our community."
Allen is raising his puppy at his parents' house for the time being. The new puppy-friendly residence hall will be open this fall. Five puppy raisers will live there along with five puppy sitters. Students who have expressed interest in being puppy raisers and sitters, but who were not selected for this year, will also be invited to live in the residence hall so that they can be mentored into the program for the next year.
"We will be installing kind of a puppy potty area outside the residence hall, and providing trash receptacles and bags, for any messes that the puppies might make," says Cagnet. "Then we're working to try to provide an enclosed fenced-in area next to the residence hall that will provide puppies the opportunity to run off leash a little bit outside."
Allen is enjoying his new furry friend, although he acknowledges that he may "bawl his eyes out" when it's time to return Logan to Leader Dogs for the Blind. But it's all for a great cause, he says.
"I think the best thing is knowing that he'll be able to change someone's life," says Allen. "The goal is to be able to lead someone that is blind, and I think that's the coolest part for me."