You’ve likely heard of colleges bringing in dogs during finals week to help sooth students’ frazzled nerves. But at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, students now have the opportunity to take their puppy love to the next level. In 2011, the school launched its Assistance Dog Training Program in conjunction with paws4people™, a nonprofit devoted to enhancing the lives of those with serious illnesses and disabilities with the help of assistance dogs.
Offered through the university’s College of Health and Human Services, the four-course progressive certificate program gives students the opportunity to learn about the training and utilization of Assistance Dogs. Part of the training process even involves the students taking the dogs along with them on everyday errands. Students who complete the program are eligible to receive a custom-trained paws4people™ Assistance Dog to use in their future careers. Furthermore, once the initial training is complete, each student and his or her respective Assistance Dog participates in a transition period during which the student teaches the recipient what the dog has learned.
According to the paws4people™ website, the most distinctive aspect of the courses offered at UNCW is that, in addition to the most well-known types of Assistance Dogs, they also cover a variety of certified Facility Dogs, which could potentially help students expand their future career opportunities. Assistance Dogs are trained to help individuals with disabilities, while Facility Dogs are trained to assist clinical or educational professionals (such as physical therapists, social workers, and psychiatrists) in a work setting. Students in UNCW’s program are therefore able to learn how Assistance Dogs can help others as well as how Facility Dogs might enhance their own future careers.
In its first year, the UNCW program consisted of 24 undergraduate students. Today there is often a waitlist for enrollment, and the program is typically filled up with 50 or more students from a wide range of majors. This strong enrollment means that the maximum number of paws4people™ Service Dogs are being trained by UNCW students each semester, which in turn means the nonprofit is able to place even more dogs with the people who need them.
This spring, UNCW will be hosting an Assistance Dog Graduation (how adorable is that?) for more than 20 assistance dogs, many of whom will be going to North Carolina residents. Former graduates of the program will also be in attendance. And in April, the school will host a 5K and one-mile Fun Walk benefiting paws4people™.
Hanging out with furry friends, getting college credit, and helping the community? Sounds like a tail-wagging good time to us!