COLLEGE PARK, Md.– Fall semester at The University of Maryland began with roughly 29,000 undergraduate students, 10,000 graduate students and 20 dogs.
If you’ve been on campus, you might’ve seen these adorable four-legged friends in class, the dorms, dining halls or walking on the quad with a student.
Emma Walz, 19, is one of the Terps with an 8-week-old black lab named “Pez.” Walz is a volunteer with the Guide Dog Foundation (GDF), which is based in Long Island, NY, and has chapters throughout the United States including one on the University of Maryland campus.
GDF provides service dogs at no cost to individuals who are visually impaired or blind. For a dog to be eligible for this important work, they have to be well trained and socialized.
Walz and other student volunteers are the first teachers of pups like Pez before they go off to doggie graduate school and eventually careers working with disabled clients.
Walz said she became interested in the GDF after arriving on campus as a freshman and missing her own dog. Seeing other dogs around campus made her want one of her own, so she started asking questions.
She learned from students in the program that young dogs are assigned to volunteer “puppy trainers” for a period of about a year.
Puppy trainers teach the basics – come, sit, down, no, potty – as well as provide socialization and lots of playtime.
The GDF provides all the necessary supplies (crate, leash, toys, veterinary services) and one bag of food. Volunteers are responsible for food beyond the initial bag.
Training is provided to volunteers throughout the program and the campus chapter meets weekly to monitor training progress and to allow the dogs to socialize with each other.
The reaction to the dogs around campus has been “great” Walz said. She has not had any professor object to the pup’s attendance in her classes. She said “one professor didn’t even know Pez was in the class until it had ended.”
Cate Law, 21, a senior majoring in Persian Studies, is one of several GDF area coordinators. She oversees six puppies and said there are currently 22 puppies on campus. Law has been part of the program since the UM chapter formed in February 2017 she said.
Emmanuel Massalee, 19 and Chardonnay Terrell, 19, both sophomores, attending a training with Law as part of a requirement before becoming a puppy trainer. Massalee said he has never “owned a dog but would like to” and became “interested in the program after seeing the dogs around campus.”
After spending a year with the trainers, puppies are returned to the GDF where they undergo several months of service dog training before being placed with a visually impaired or blind person. Walz said it will be hard to give Pez up after a year, but she “hopes to immediately begin training another puppy” so she doesn’t feel so sad when he leaves for graduate school.