HELENA - Three Carroll College students are helping train young puppies to become future service dogs in their local Canine Companions Club on campus.
"I am thrilled to be a part of a mission that can offer a person with disability [their] independence," said Stephanie Zheng, a volunteer helping raise puppies as part of the Collar Scholars Club at Carroll College.
Zhneg has trained dogs before, but she tells me that training her puppy, Gnocchi is special.
"I can just feel how hard it would be to have a life where you feel like you always need someone else's help to live. And dogs are one of those amazing creatures that are without judgment," said Zhneg.
The Collar Scholars Club is a part of the Perkins Call Canine Center and is working with the national non-profit Canine Companions. Their mission is to help connect clients with dogs, so both can enjoy greater independence.
Clients can be of any age and from any background. From military veterans to people working in health care, criminal justice, or education.
Carroll senior Maya Lynn— who has been with the club since it started in 2019 — walked us through what they do as trainers every day.
"As puppy raisers, we're not professional trainers, but we are helping to provide the puppies with a positive first year of life. And we're socializing them to different types of environments and just making it all really positive for them," said Lynn.
The trainers also teach each of the pups 30 basic skills to prepare them for professional training.
Sophomore Courtney Boese says her puppy Agave has been a huge help to her, and hopes the dog will do the same for another person in the future.
"Being here was kind of weird by myself, away from family and away from pets. And then after joining the club, I was like, what better way than to get to raise a service dog for somebody in need? Because not only will I benefit, but somebody else will at the end of it," said Boese.
Each Canine Companions' service dog spends the first year and a half with a volunteer puppy raiser until they move on to professional training.