The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech has teamed up with Saint Francis Service Dogs, a Roanoke-based nonprofit, to raise three puppies for future service dog training. The partnership not only supports puppies on their path to become professionally trained service dogs, but also offers veterinary students important lessons on the human-animal bond, according to the college.
“While they are with us, the puppies have a structured program of care and learning foundational skills such as walking on a leash and interacting with people and other animals in safe situations,” said Bess Pierce, DVM, associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences and director of the Center for Animal Human Relationships. “During the day at the veterinary college, they follow a detailed program developed by Saint Francis, and in the evenings, they will go home with their puppy raisers.”
The puppies will learn life skills through a program called Puppy University. This may include going to the library, traveling on a bus or visiting the mall — physical and social skills that they might need in their future life as a service dog, said Dr. Pierce, who previously served on the board of directors for Saint Francis Service Dogs.
“It’s great to have the experience of raising a puppy, training him well from the start, and seeing how he progresses,” said Alex King of Chicago, a third-year veterinary student, who will be raising one of the puppies. “I’m hoping my senior year that I can do a rotation with Saint Francis Service Dogs to see the advanced training when these puppies are a little older and ready to place with their new owners.”
Student participants in the program will have the option of earning course credit during their fourth-year public and corporate veterinary medicine rotation if they complete a presentation about their work, the college noted.
Pet nutrition company Purina is donating food and supplies for the puppies throughout the program. The college also received donations from W&S Painting, Sherwin Williams, SignSpot, Dominion Door and Hardware and The Mason Company for supplies and services.