Four-legged friends part of campus culture of involvement and community engagement
Written by Dave Claborn
Juneau is the capital of Alaska, but on the Ohio State Marion campus, Juneau is the name of a four month old female golden-doodle--the first of a bevy of future service dogs who will be socialized by Ohio State Marion students. Juneau and her handler, second year animal science major Alexis Nicholson, are part of the “4Paws for Ability” program headquartered in Xenia, Ohio.
The dogs are nurtured first by inmates in the state’s prison system. Then, when they are ready at around three months of age, they are placed with students and others who help the dogs learn proper puppy etiquette so that, eventually, they can be placed with owners who need a service dog in their lives. Some of the dogs, for example, will provide early warnings of impending seizures or help their owners navigate public spaces. They could be hearing or vision dogs or help veterans negotiate PTSD.
For Nicholson, who hopes to become a veterinarian, having Juneau as her constant companion fits her academic plan. She will more than achieve the “animal hours” she’s required to complete as part of her major by taking Juneau to class and her on-campus job of manning the front desk in Maynard Hall.
Ohio State Marion Enrollment Services Counselor Macy Winkelfoos brought the 4Paws program to the campus after being a dog-parent during her undergraduate education at Wittenberg University. Winkelfoos, a Mount Gilead native, grew up in a large family on a horse farm. “I’ve always been surrounded by animals,” she said. It is her brother who has downs syndrome who inspired her to work with 4Paws. “Someday, my brother might need a dog like this,” she said. “I wanted to be involved in something bigger than myself.”
Her vision is spreading among Ohio State Marion students. At least five additional students are on a waiting list, ready to volunteer their time to socialize would-be service dogs. A second dog on campus, a three pound male Papillion named Rembrandt, is being trained by student Karen Arburn.
Ohio State Marion Dean and Director, Dr. Greg Rose, has endorsed the program, saying it is one more way Ohio State Marion seeks to give back to the community. Students on the Columbus campus of Ohio State also socialize 4Paws dogs, but Marion is the first regional campus to undertake the mission.
“The hardest part,” said Winkelfoos, “is letting them go. The first time I had to do it, I cried all day,” she said. But, in the end, she knew her puppies would find their purpose bringing companionship and service to their ultimate owners.