Since arriving on Miami University’s campus in August, Kashi has been keeping busy: going to class, cheering on the RedHawks at football games, relaxing at Kofenya, enjoying lots of kibble. Yes, kibble. Kashi is an eight-month old bloodhound-lab cross and one of three dogs on campus this semester working for 4Paws, an organization that trains service dogs.
Kashi’s journey to Miami began in Xenia, Ohio at the 4Paws headquarters where she was bred. Early on, she moved to a local correctional facility to receive basic obedience training from the inmates. Then, at four months, she was placed with Miami seniors Sarah Cesler and Kelsey Mayrhofer.
Senior Kristin McNamara founded a 4Paws chapter at Miami. McNamara, a special education major, had seen 4Paws work with children with special needs, and saw the benefits of service dogs firsthand. So for the past two years she has been working with Jessa Brown, the university coordinator for 4Paws.
Last February, 4Paws was approved as a student organization and six months later, after a rigorous application and review process and a brief orientation, Cesler and Mayrohfer brought Kashi to Miami. Now, she goes with them everywhere.
“It’s literally like having a child,” Cesler said. “The time commitment is huge.”
Cesler, Mayrohfer and Kashi are required to attend biweekly training sessions in Dayton where they learn tricks, practice obedience and begin developing behavior-recognition. But Kashi’s main purpose in being on a college campus is to become socialized and comfortable with situations that she will likely face regularly as a service dog.
“We have a long list of things we’re supposed to expose them to,” Cesler said.
Kashi will need to be comfortable going anywhere the general public can go: restaurants, malls, movie theaters and especially classrooms.
“4Paws gives a lot of service dogs to kids,” Cesler said. “So it’s important to spend a lot of time in the classroom.”
So Kashi attends Cesler’s marketing and international studies classes, where she is learning to lie quietly at Cesler’s feet, despite the movements, sounds and smells of the classroom that beg to be explored.
“She’s supposed to just sit there but she doesn’t always obey,” Cesler said. “She can be a really big distraction sometimes, for me and for others.”
The Ohio Revised Code allows dogs in training and their trainers “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of all public conveyances,” including “all institutions of education.” However, it is unclear whether Miami’s classrooms constitute public spaces, according to McNamara, so 4Paws works in continual cooperation with the professors and abides by their wishes regarding the presence of the dogs in the classrooms.
“We don’t press the issue because we don’t want to cause a bad situation,” McNamara said. “We’ve worked really hard to get here and we want to have a good reputation at the university.”
Cesler has tried to maintain good communication with her professors throughout this process.
“I let my teachers know ahead of time and if any of them had had a problem with it, I wouldn’t have done it,” Cesler said.
The dogs are allowed access to the classrooms and federal law permits them to live with their trainers, regardless of any pet clauses outlined in their lease, according to Cesler. In general, the landlords were receptive to the idea once they were shown the legislation protecting the dogs and the documentation proving they were being trained for service, McNamara said.
McNamara’s landlady, Christina Roberts, is highly supportive of the program and is proud to be a part of the work that is being done.
“We are happy to support them and happy to have them here,” Roberts said. “The service dogs are usually larger [pets] than what we allow but we are not concerned about them because we understand they go through quite a bit of training.”
McNamara said she tries to steer away from even calling the dogs “pets.”
“They’re more like a piece of equipment,” McNamara said.
This does not mean, however, that trainers are encouraged to remain detached from their dogs, Cesler said. In fact, they are encouraged to bond as this will prepare the dogs to one day bond with the person they will be serving. This makes it much more difficult to part with them at the end of the semester, when they will move on to the next phase of training.
“I try not to think about giving her up in a month,” Cesler said, patting Kashi on the head.
Once her time at Miami is over, Kashi will go on to advanced training, where she will likely become specialized in seizure detection because of her keen bloodhound sense of smell, Cesler said. Once Kashi has completed all her training, Cesler will be invited to come to her graduation and meet the child that she has been matched with. McNamara can attest that this is a powerful moment.
“All the pain of giving up the dog is worth it when you see the way dog has bonded with the kid and influenced the kid’s life,” McNamara said.