By: Natasha Young, Managing Editor
The Puppy Club has been hard at work educating students around Georgia Southern University on why service animals are important.
Puppy Club is an organization at GSU that works with Southeastern Guide Dogs to help raise puppies to become service animals. The puppies are usually decked out in their blue coats to let people know that they are in training when in public.
Georgia Southern has had several different kinds of clubs similar to Puppy Club since 2014. Even though they are similar, Morgan McCree, president and founder of the Puppy Club said they’re focusing more on raising the puppies compared to prior years.
Students in the areas surrounding Statesboro and Savannah can apply to be either a sitter or a raiser through the organization. Being a raiser means that you can receive a puppy from Southeastern Guide Dogs that you will raise until they turn about 18 months old.
“When I heard about the mission for Southeastern Guide Dogs and Puppy Club helps college students to be a part of that, I really wanted to do that,” Xander Russell said. Russell is co-raising Helios, a high energy yellow lab puppy, with his roommate on campus.
Having a puppy is obviously fun, but it’s hard work Russell said. Russell and other raisers teach the puppies commands needed for future training, which they call college where they will be trained to become guide dogs, service dogs or therapy animals.
The training progresses as the puppy gets older that’s similar to the human school system. Puppies go through kindergarten where they learn basic obedience skills, they then progress to middle school where they are prepped for the highest levels the raisers will take them to, which is high school.
In order to teach the puppies, the raisers need to take them into public to practice basic obedience and more advanced practices like learning how to switch sides.
Some members and service dog users have had issues in the past on campus concerning when and where puppies are allowed, McCree said. There have been situations where either puppies in training or fully trained service animals were removed from campus buildings and classrooms.
“We’ve definitely came a long way since then in terms of like educating the campus community on what a service animal is and where our puppies are allowed,” McCree said. “We’ve also been really lucky with the school because they allow us to have the puppies in the dorms.”
Service animals in training are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act which means that they cannot be sent out of classrooms on campus unless it poses a threat to their safety like in some lab classes. Oftentimes, if there is a conflict the university will try to work with the student raiser to accommodate their puppy, said Russell.
Even though some students may have problems raising the puppies, it’s a rewarding job to take on, member Ky Sullivan said. Sullivan helps puppy sit for raisers when they need to take time off.
“The organization we work with, gives these dogs away for free and these dogs normally go for up to 60k so it’s just really rewarding work,” Sullivan said.
It might seem hard to think about letting go of a puppy that you’ve raised for a year and a half, but Russell said that it’s worth it when you know what an impact they will have on someone else’s lives.
Puppy Club holds events every semester to help raise funds for Southeastern Guide Dogs and to raise awareness for the importance of service animals. Students can expect to see more events and more puppies on campus in the coming 2023 fall semester, said McCree.