There is a new student in Professor Woodrow Richardson’s Tuesday afternoon principles of management class.
Meet Farrah, a Labrador and golden retriever mix and service dog in training. Farrah is one of two dogs in the University of Mary Washington’s chapter of Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), founded by UMW juniors Rebekah Selbrede and Abigail Hannell.
Selbrede and Hannell started the program in the fall 2014 semester after a year of planning that culminated with an overnight trip to New York to pick up Dragon and Farrah in June. Having grown up with dogs, both girls were eager to put their love of animals towards a meaningful cause. As service dogs in training, Dragon and Farrah will eventually be paired with someone in need of help with a physical or hearing disability.
Both students were quick to admit that it’s not quite the same as having a pet. “It’s like having a child,” said Selbrede. “It’s a big responsibility to train these dogs.”
Over the next year and a half, Dragon and Farrah will learn 30 basic commands, house training and socialization. With all of the faculty, staff and students, college campuses create the perfect training ground for socialization skills. The biggest difficulty is in getting students to ask before interacting with the dogs.
“When Dragon has his cape on, he’s working,” said Selbrede. “If students pet him while he’s learning, it can be a distraction.”
Hannell and Farrah arrive on campus at 7:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday for a full day of classes that doesn’t end until 5 p.m. “She will play with her chew toy and sleep in class. Sometimes she starts snoring and I have to nudge her to wake her back up,” said Hannell. After the long day, the cape comes off and it’s well-deserved playtime at home.
Dragon has yet to attend his first class. “He has about a one-hour attention span, but has trouble doing more than that,” said Selbrede. At just four months, Dragon is right where he is supposed to be though, and will hopefully attend his first class in the coming weeks.
The student-run club, CCI@UMW, is funded in part by the Center for Honor, Leadership, and Service’s Incubator Program, which gives students the resources to enhance the values it stands for on campus. The club will focus on fundraising and awareness and provide opportunities for students to help with puppy-sitting and training.
After a year and a half of training, Selbrede and Hannell will return the dogs to CCI for advanced training. While sad to think about saying bye to the dogs, both girls are keenly aware of the greater purpose Dragon and Farrah serve.
“We’re not giving them up, we’re giving them to [someone in need],” said Selbrede.
Hannell agreed, “Farrah is going to make an impact on someone else’s life and I want her to be able to do that.”
Update: Dragon has since been reassigned to another trainer within the CCI program. The four-month-old puppy wasn’t quite ready for college.