By Colleen Kochensparger | @KyKernel
Joining the current Wildcat Service Dogs training class of Rory, Miles and their respective trainers, Jennifer Lyons and Katie McKenzie, are three new puppies learning to carry keys and press handicap buttons for their owners across campus.
Rachel Martell’s dog, Jackson, is a six-month-old fullbred black lab who is relishing his role as a service dog in-training. Jackson is already willing and able to carry Martell’s wallet across campus for her.
“He’s well behaved,” said Martell, an equine science and management freshman. “He’s really willing to please me, which makes it really easy to train him.”
“I have been riding horses since I was five, and I just got done training a horse before I got back (to UK), and obviously I have pets at home,” Martell said of her experience working with animals prior to Wildcat Service Dogs.
Adrian McKinney, chemistry sophomore, and her dog, Riley, have also joined the ranks of service dogs training across UK campus.
“He’s five months old and sleeps a lot, but still loves to play,” McKinney said of Riley, the miniature golden retriever she is working with.
Both Martell and McKinney were, at least in part, inspired to join Wildcat Service Dogs because they missed their own dogs at home.
“Originally my roommate from last year wanted to get involved,” McKinney said, but her roommate became too busy. “So it just became my thing … Now she jokes that she’s Riley’s aunt.”
The third new dog to UK’s campus also spends part of his time at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women, a medium-security prison located in Louisville, Ky.
Wildcat Service Dogs is collaborating with Paws with Purpose to raise Chevy, who alternates spending a week with a resident of the institute and a week with
Katie Skarvan, animal science junior and founder of Wildcat Service Dogs.
Chevy has a Paws with Purpose vest for his weeks in Louisville, and when in Lexington, wears a vest that has a Wildcat Service Dogs patch on one side and a Paws with Purpose patch on the other, Skarvan said.
“The partnership with Paws with Purpose … is really nice, as they pay for his food, and every time I pick him up he’s groomed and he’s clean,” Skarvan said.
Skarvan works with Chevy for a week, drops him off for a week of classes and training at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women, then picks him up to see what progress he’s made with his other trainer.
“The only downside is I drive to Louisville every weekend … I either have to pick him up or drop him off for class every Saturday,” Skarvan said of the dual trainer arrangement.
The two trainers don’t know each other very well; their only connection is Chevy.
“Our relationship is strictly professional. We only talk about the dogs … I’m not allowed to tell her my favorite color and I don’t know what she’s in (the institute) for,” Skarvan said.
“I show her what I’ve been working on and she’ll pick up where I’ve left off,” Skarvan said.
Chevy’s dual-trainer arrangement is a trial run for possible future partnerships with Paws with Purpose, but is new for both groups.
Wildcat Service Dogs not only has a new partnership to experiment with, but also had a busy February schedule, which included a fundraising pet wash at Pet Paws Self Serve Pet Wash.
The dogs and trainers attended a birthday party for Rory, who turned one-year-old.
And all current trainers, dogs and program officers visited Blazer Hall last week to enlighten the residents about the Wildcat Service Dogs program and service dogs in general.
Despite their busy calendars, and the occasional need for a dog babysitter from the WSD program while the trainers take exams, all five trainers are still enthused about their role in helping a service dog learn how best to help its future owner.
“It’s definitely a lot of work,” McKinney said. “But at the same time, it’s definitely very rewarding.”