Seeing-eye dogs go to college
GLASSBORO, N.J. (AP) – The youngest students at Rowan University enjoy all the aspects of campus life – including classes and dorm rooms – without the term papers.For a third year, Rowan students are raising puppies destined to become seeing-eye dogs.College life allows the dogs to spend virtually every moment getting accustomed to being around people. Their student trainers take them almost everywhere they go, even to basketball games, where the canines get court-side seats.
“Simon has more friends than I do. They come around looking for him instead of me,” Jake Massaro, 24, said of the brown Labrador-golden retriever mix that he and his roommates are raising.The program, coordinated with a nearby guide-dog training school called The Seeing Eye, is an example of how trainers take advantage of populated locales, including colleges and prisons, to get the canines acclimated to human contact. Students also raise puppies at Rutgers University and the University of Delaware.College campuses have proved to be excellent places for preparing potential guide dogs, said Teresa Davenport, a spokeswoman for The Seeing Eye, one of about a dozen guide-dog training schools across the country.”The more puppies are exposed to people, the better guide dogs they can be,” Davenport said.About 20 Rowan students are in charge of six dogs on the public university’s campus, 18 miles south of Philadelphia.
Students get the dogs when they are 7 weeks old, and most keep them for more than a year. After that, the dogs go to The Seeing Eye for harness training and, if all goes well, placement with a blind person.Along with acclimating dogs to people, a college campus is a perfect place for dogs to become comfortable with a busy world, said George Brelsford, the school’s dean of students.”The campus is really a small city. We have trucks and bulldozers that go by. We have social events,” Brelsford said.The students also get something out of the program, said Sita Tomas, 22, a graduate student who is studying counseling while training Quasar, a black Labrador-golden retriever mix.
“It’s definitely nice to have someone and not just be lonely sometimes,” said Tomas, who lives alone.The hardest part of the program for students has been parting with the canines when they leave for their guide-dog training.Lauren Lee, 21, a senior psychology major from East Brunswick, said she and her roommates think of Kong, their German shepherd, as though he were a teenager about to leave the nest.”It’s like he’s going off to college. He’s going to be great up there,” Lee said.