Program trains dogs for service, builds companionship with students


Rachel Brase at the 4 Paws for Ability event enjoys petting one of the service dogs in Lexington, Ky., on (date). Photo by Lydia Emeric | Staff

Morgan Lloyd

With furry paws and blue vests some of UK’s most dedicated students attend class in more ways than one. 
Wildcat Service Dogs is a program ran by students at UK that focuses on training dogs to become service animals. The dogs can be seen around campus wearing blue service vests and practicing commands with their trainers before moving onto their “forever person.” 
“The best thing about WSD is the relationships you get with the people and the dogs. It is not just being a part of an organization, it means so much more than that,” said Krista Wilkerson, an animal science sophomore.
The program currently consists of eight dogs ranging from five to 13 months old. Wildcat Service Dogs receives the dogs from various breeders or through private donations. 
Through the organization, students train the dogs during their first year of life before they graduate from the program. Upon graduation from the program, the dogs are passed to Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence where they face more advanced training. 
Wilkerson has been in the program for two years, beginning as a babysitter but has progressed into a trainer. Wilkerson trains Lexi, a five-month old black lab, along side Hunter Mitchell, a journalism sophomore, who trains Mia. Together they work on socialization and command techniques.
“Knowing that what I am doing is going beyond myself and towards someone that really needs it is a great feeling,” Mitchell said. 
The eight trainers teach their dogs a wide variety of commands that will help their “forever person.” Dogs are taught commands such as “touch” to open handicap doors and “tug” to open fridges, cabinets, door handles, and to pull off socks and jackets. The command “go get it” is used to teach getting keys and holding items.
Kiley Kinnison, an integrated strategic communications freshman, became a babysitter for WSD during the Fall semester. 
“I got involved with the program because I have always had dogs my whole life, and going to college made me realize how much I miss them,” Kinnison said.
Babysitters’ watch the dogs when they are new and do not have public access, when the trainers have labs or cannot take the dogs to specific classes. To keep the dogs focused, babysitters are consistent with the trainers to ensure the dogs are following their assigned commands.
“I always think of how cool this program is because we are training these dogs to help people in need who can’t perform daily activities on their own,” Kinnison said.
The motto of WSD, “helping students, help dogs, help people,” is continuing to expand as the program size increases.
To learn more about getting involved with WSD, students can visit their website at or the organization’s Facebook page.