Senior uses skills to train guide dogs for the blind
Growing up on a farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with horses, cats, dogs and other animals, psychology senior Michaela Marks became used to balancing animal care and schoolwork on a day-to-day basis.
In her final undergraduate year at MSU, Marks has added the official title of “puppy raiser” to her resume.
Marks’ education on guide dogs for the blind stemmed from her childhood, when a visually impaired neighbor used a guide dog to perform daily tasks.
After meeting several students working with guide dogs on campus, Marks discovered the possibility of raising a guide dog of her own.
Marks began the project with the mindset and intentions of following through with giving the dog away after the prescribed training period to assure he would be able to help someone who was visually impaired.
“For me, at the end of the day, it’s more important to see him be able to change somebody’s life as opposed to being a pet, which is what I’m used to with dogs I’ve had in the past, just keeping them,” Marks said. “I think his life will be better lived helping someone increase their mobility.”
Marks said the difference between her treatment of Toby and a pet is the behavior expectations.
“They’re supposed to behave, overall better than most typical dogs,” Marks said. “That does come with being a little more strict with the overall standards for the dog as well.”
Marks utilizes the benefits of having the constant companionship.
“I experienced some life circumstances at the beginning of this year and it was very comforting to have his presence and his continual companionship throughout the day in class,” Marks said. “Always being able to rely on him was very comforting for me.”
The goal of the program is to provide blind individuals with the ability to be more mobile with a guide dog, which works to help them navigate through the obstacles they are unable to see, providing them with greater independence.
Marks said the goal is to bring Toby to as many places as possible, so when he is paired with a visually impaired individual, he will be adapted.
“He literally does go everywhere with me,” Marks said. “It’s getting his bib ready to go, it’s getting his supplies ready whenever we go somewhere, loading him into a car, getting him dressed, getting him ready to go in public, taking him grocery shopping, going clothes shopping — anything, he’s there with me.”
At 10 months, Toby has already rode across Lake Michigan on the S.S. Badger, and went alongside Marks to Florida for spring break.
MSU has been very accommodating to the overall program and care of Toby, Marks said.
Marks was approved by the MSU Board of Trustees early in the year and then contacted all her professors to inform them.
“I think it just is very aligned with MSU’s goal to be more accommodating to people with disabilities and it is really a good feeling to be working alongside MSU in a sense with their goal of broadening opportunities for people with disabilities,” Marks said.
Marks said she hopes to one day work with people with disabilities.
“I think this experience has been really eye-opening to see what work goes into just providing a better life for people who may be affected by a disability such as blindness,” Marks said.