Dogs in the hall
MRU ideal classroom for service dogs
There’s something magically healing about squealing over an adorable, fuzzy animal.
Arguably, it’s the reason it’s so easy to lose hours of homework time to the Interwebs. But, just imagine the high-pitched noises you’d make actually being in a room with about ten retriever puppies.
The creme de la creme of cuteness meets every Thursday in a church basement in Renfrew — welcome to puppy school.
Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS) is a Canadian non-profit organization that aims to provide physically disabled or hearing impaired individuals with a “new leash on life,” according to theSociety’s website, www.pads.ca. The Alberta-based organization, Dogs With Wings, also trains and pairs service dogs with Albertans with disabilities.
In order to do this job, PADS volunteer puppy-sitter Lauren Deklerk said the puppies need to be ready for anything.
“You want to make them bomb-proof using as much stimulation as possible,” she explained.
The crowds and sensory overload in public places — like Mount Royal University — make them prime training grounds for working pups.
Even their regular Thursday training sessions are rife with distraction.
For most puppies, a bagful of treats hitting the floor would spur a feeding frenzy so wiggly, so chaotic, the owner is just left, well, holding the bag. Not at puppy school though, these students are no ordinary bunch.
Not one pup so much as twitched a nose at the surprise feast. Pretty impressive, but it’s what these dogs are trained to do.
Field trips are an integral part of the training regimen. A recent trip to Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Balzac had the class practice walking past the loud noises of the firing range, standing on a glass-bottom elevator, and the ultimate test: ignoring the mouth-watering beef jerky display.
These pups aren’t always working; they’re still kids and teenagers in the dog world.
Deklerk said 18-month-old Collette understands the distinction
“The difference between having her vest on and off is amazing. Her vest goes on and she knows she’s working; as soon as it comes off she just wiggles.”
Latitude — named for the Jimmy Buffet song, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” — is a mature 19-month-old yellow Labrador retriever who will graduate from the program later this year.
MRU history student Kayla Cavanaugh has fostered Latitude, or “Latty,” since he was two months old.
She said his ability to sit through her classes is impressive — and the students in her classes really like having the yellow lab around.
If you see Latitude wearing his yellow vest in MRU’s hallways, it means he’s working.
The PADS website asks the public to respect the dogs’ training and to never give the dogs a command, touch them without asking, or feed them while they’re working.
They also ask people be respectful of the volunteer’s time — having a puppy in public makes you a popular person and sometimes they just don’t have time for you to coo over the adorable, wagging, wriggling ball of cute they’re walking with.
But, if you find yourself starting to resemble the gnarled face of the evil end-of-semester stress monster, get your butt off the Internet and down to puppy school on Thursday nights — a puppy’s healing power of cute is much more potent in person.