With the kickoff of each fall and spring semester comes a flourish of activity up at the University of Utah campus. Freshmen scrambling to find classes only five minutes apart (pro tip: get a bike), seniors sauntering around the library courtyard, student groups gathering hungry for fresh recruits, puppies barking—wait, puppies?
Now in their fourth year on campus, are 30 bright eyed curious little Labrador retriever pups keen on kisses and affectionate doting. While these furry babies provide much needed alleviation from the stresses of college, their purpose on campus is actually much bigger than simple student distractions. These well-behaved puppies, seen trotting around the courtyards and lounging in lecture halls, are service dogs in training with a program called Labs for Liberty.
This national nonprofit trains purebred Labrador retrievers to be given to veterans free of charge. Founded in 2015 by Joan and Roger Nold, Labs for Liberty provides up to 25 service dogs a year to deserving veterans. To be prepared for a variety of environments as well as acquire skills needed to help out their future veterans, these pups need around-the-clock training and intense socialization. What better place than at the University of Utah?
The theory is that college students make perfect trainers, with enough time on their hands to devote precious attention to labs in training, but busy enough that each dog will be exposed to a diverse range of environments and experiences.
Most trainers, ages 18-23, are assigned one dog with two to three other trainers. For up to a year, the team will work together to transform one rambunctious ruffer into a helpful hound who can use emotional detection to recognize and treat symptoms associated with PTSD, TBI, and other injuries.
Labs for Liberty is a nonprofit organization that depends on donations and volunteers to run smoothly. Learn more about becoming a trainer or sponsoring a pup and donate today at http://labsforliberty.org/
— Avrey Evans