Tricks and treats: UK 4 Paws for Ability hosts puppy fashion show


Maria Rauh

Handler Megan Smith and dog Airlie dress up as a pilot and an airplane for the Puppy Fashion Show on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, in the Cats Den at The University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Maria Rauh | Staff

Kristen Roberts, Reporter

On Oct. 27, the UK organization 4 Paws for Ability hosted a puppy fashion show as a new fundraising event.

Service dogs in training and handlers dressed up in Halloween costumes and strutted down the runway in all sorts of characters, everything from a minion to a dinosaur. Some handlers based their costumes on their dogs’ name, such as a homage to the movie “Ratatouille” featuring a dog Linguini.

The goal of the event was to fundraise for future activities and families, and to spread awareness about the club itself. The program also hosts similar fundraising and social events, collaborating with other organizations to raise awareness about what 4 Paws does.

“4 Paws for Ability is a non-profit organization based out of Xenia, Ohio.” Alyssa Rigney, recruitment coordinator, said. “We train, raise and place service dogs with children and veterans.”

Over 100 members of handlers and sitters aid 4 Paws for Ability in its main goal, socializing dogs and preparing them to soon become full-fledged service dogs.

“A lot of other organizations on campus love having our dogs at the events, so we are usually at other organizations’ events once a week,” 4 Paws President Megan Hwang said.

4 Paws puts all money received from fundraising into socialization trips for the dogs and to raise money for families in need.

“They say socialization comes first; we want a confident dog – a dog who is really unfazed by anything,” Rigney said. “What comes next is their obedience.”

In the past, 4 Paws took dogs to the zoo to better prepare them for any chaotic environments they may have to face as service dogs. “Doing things like that throughout the semester makes it a lot easier once they get placed to work for their kid or their veteran in the future,” Fundraising Officer Shelby Fugat said.

Another responsibility of the club is raising money and awareness for families who may need service dogs or other things. It recently raised around $1,200 for a family to put towards a wheelchair accessible van, Fugat said.

“It was just difficult for them to get her to school, to get her to doctor’s appointments, to go to the grocery or anything, and they couldn’t do it without her mom and her sister being there,” Fugat said.

Fugat said families 4 Paws for Ability matched with animals in the past have shown up to 4 Paws meetings to inform everyone on the positive impact the dogs have created in their lives.

Most of the time families who matched with dogs will share updates, pictures and other information with the handlers about the dog they raised.

Fugat’s previous dog’s family gives her many new heart-warming updates all the time.“He snuggles right up with (his owner) at night,” Fugat said. “Her mom will send me videos of her singing songs about how much she loves him.”

Fugat said it is difficult to give the dogs back after raising the animal for about a year and a half, but she has seen what good it does.

“It definitely makes it worth it,” Fugat said. “You know that they are much happier doing that then they ever would have been staying with us.”

Rigney talked about how one of her favorite things about 4 Paws is seeing where the dogs end up.

“Just seeing the dogs graduate, and be the most perfect service dogs for their kids and veterans is just so amazing honestly,” Rigney said.

Hwang is in her fourth and final year of the program. She said she has seen many benefits throughout her time.

“I absolutely love getting to work with dogs for a reason that’s bigger than just wanting to have a pet,” Hwang said.

A lot of 4 Paws members talked about the strong connections they have made from participating in the organization, with the dogs and trainers, and what an amazing community it is, where everyone bonds over their mutual love for helping dogs and others.

4 Paws places service dogs all across the country. Anyone at UK can sign up to become a trainer and train puppies for a year or more until they go off to get more advanced training.