Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Bandanas made during a meeting at Anthony Hall on Oct. 10, 2022.  The group looks to inform others about leader dogs and how they can get involved.

MSU Leader Dog Club: Bringing more than just dogs to campus

Senior Katarina Jarmoluk has raised three service dogs in her time at MSU. Her second, Remy, just graduated from formal training and is now in Kentucky with his blind handler. Now Winston, her third, comes along with her to classes, walks around campus and MSU Leader Dog Club meetings.

The club, for which Jarmoluk is the puppy raiser chair, began in 2018 to bring awareness to the importance of service animals.

“A lot of people don’t know what service animals do,” MSU Leader Dog Club Secretary Camille Davis said. “And especially leader dogs, how much they can make a difference in someone’s life.”

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Service dogs are specifically trained to assist people with disabilities by doing work or performing tasks for the handler. Usually, the dog wears a harness or bandana that signifies that it is working and not a pet.

Leader Dog Club is in partnership with the service dog training facility, Leader Dogs for the Blind, in Rochester Hills. After puppy raisers in the club train the dog for about a year, the dog undergoes four to six months of intensive training in Rochester Hills before being matched with a handler in need.

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“We’re a really small club, so we’ve had a hard time engaging members,” Jarmoluk said.

But because of campus-wide fundraising events, the club has grown since its beginning. Last year, there were only about ten general members, Davis said. Now, the lecture hall meetings are held in each week fills with general members new and returning.

This year, there are five puppy raisers in the club. General members are welcome to puppy sit and help train the puppy raisers’ dogs, as well as attend meetings and run fundraisers. Meetings consist of informational presentations, guest speakers and, of course, interacting with the dogs in training.

“(General members) have a lot of opportunities to help the dogs and get involved with training the dogs even if they don’t have one,” Davis said.

After hearing about the club from Instagram, freshmen Molly Reilly and Katie Danna attended their first Leader Dog Club meeting together at the Oct. 10 general member meeting in Anthony Hall.

“It’s a good de-stresser,” Reilly said. “It’s a good break from doing schoolwork.”

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At the meeting, the pair signed up to help the puppy raisers train their dogs.

Fundraising event money goes to puppy raisers in the club so they do not have to pay for dog food and supplies. The goal is to make service dog training as accessible as possible for members who are interested. 

Two years ago, service dogs were not allowed on MSU’s campus. In 2020, former Puppy Raiser Chair Bre Stahl fought to change that. Now, MSU is required to make accommodations to allow service animals to accompany their handlers anywhere on campus since they are providing essential services. 

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Jarmoluk said the college campus setting turns out to be an ideal place to train a future service dog.

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“Student raisers are a little bit more successful usually than non-student raisers,” Jarmoluk said. “It’s a really good environment to train a dog in, you have classes and things like that ... it just kind of teaches them the foundational skills they need to know.”

The club’s next event is called Pay to Pet and will take place on Oct. 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. at the Rock. For $1, anyone is welcome to pet and spend time with the dogs. The money will go toward supporting student raisers on campus.