By Whitney Elfstrom
A brand new tenant moved into Residence Hall One, Wednesday morning, donning a bright blue bandana, a yellow coat and a wagging tail. He answers to the name Petey.
Community members, reporters and the USF St. Petersburg Puppy Club — who were wearing identical light-blue polos — flocked to the front of RHO to welcome the new pup, including fellow guide-dogs-in-training Bub and Juno.
Despite being surrounded by people at the ceremony, Petey only seemed to care about one thing: looking for twigs to snack on.
The three-month-old yellow lab will be the sixth puppy from Southeastern Guide Dogs on campus, but the first to live in a dorm room.
Petey will be living with Stephanie Campos, senior biology major and president of the club. Campos will be responsible for taking care of Petey and teaching him manners. There are also 20 students living in the Living Learning Communities on the first floor of RHO, who will be there to help puppy-sit Petey.
Campos, a lifelong dog lover, was inspired to become a volunteer raiser — someone who fosters a puppy for 14-16 months to teach them house manners and basic obedience — while on an internship last year at Southeastern Guide Dogs. There, she watched the progress of the dogs as they trained to become guide dogs and grew up to help the community.
As a raiser, Campos will provide a happy and supportive home for Petey as he trains.
Campos said her and her roommates were “counting down the days” since the beginning of the semester for the puppy-in-training to come to live with them.
“We set up crates in each room, we have his toys set up and put his (food) bowl out. We did pretty much everything we could safety wise — we picked up all the loose cables and anything on the floor. It’s just like having a toddler,” Campos said.
Raising Petey to become a “superhero” will be a community effort, said Campos. The Puppy Club and Southeastern Guide Dogs lean on one another for support as they all go through the training process.
There are still a few weeks to go before the adorable puppy can strut across Harbor Lawn to sit in on daily lectures. Petey will first have to attend a four-week-long puppy kindergarten. After he graduates, he will be awarded his “Service Dog in Training” vest.
Students should be respectful of Petey while he’s sporting his royal blue vest, said Campos.
“The little vest is the same things as if (Petey) was already a certified guide dog,” Campos said. “If he has the vest on then it means that he’s working and (students) should ask before petting or they should leave him alone because he’s doing his job right now.”
A service dog is a highly trained companion that works to provide their handlers with an element of safety and independence that would otherwise be unattainable.
“A blind person cannot cross the street without their guide dog on their hand,” Campos said. “A veteran who came back from the war cannot turn without being frightened without their service dog next to them.”
Students who are interested in the Puppy Club are invited to join the weekly Monday meetings in SLC 2100 from 5:30-8:00 p.m.
Members will learn the basics of how to train a service dog and will be able to puppy-sit.
Leslie Shepard, director of Puppy Raising Services, said she would love to see a “dorm full of puppies.”
She also said that the university is the best place to train a service dog, not only because it’s in a metropolitan area, but because the dogs trained at a university are ideal for visually impaired college students since they will be used to going to lectures.
Southeastern Guide Dogs is always in need of more puppy raisers as they have roughly 250 puppies in the program who need loving foster homes.
According to Campos, raising a guide dog is fun and rewarding but challenging. They’re babies in training, so raisers have to make sure they have the time to watch the puppy and that they have a community to support them.
Raising a puppy will be a daily adventure but Campos said she’s looking forward to loving him, “telling him he’s a good boy” and joining the supportive raisers community.
“The biggest challenge will definitely be giving (Petey) up on his training day,” Campos said, “But the most rewarding will be seeing him in his harness helping someone who needs him.”
If you’re interested in becoming a raiser you can find more information here.