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Furry friends: 4 Paws brings new foster dogs to campus

By Alison Perelman, Senior Staff Writer

Orientation can mean a few different things to college students - freshmen orientation in the summer, or the beginning of an internship or job. But for the members of the 4 Paws organization on campus, orientation is also known as "puppy pick up."

Miami University senior Hailey Gilman remembers the first orientation she attended as a member of the 4 Paws for Ability. It was an overwhelming and long day, but exciting, too.

The fosters read through the paperwork about which dog they will receive.

"It's really exciting because at that point, it's real," Gilman said.

But they have to wait some more - learn about the rules, the do's and don'ts and the terminology.

Finally, everyone gathers in the kennel area. As names are called, the dogs bound out to meet their new fosters.

Hailey has seen the 4 Paws dogs around campus since she was a freshman. She thought about fostering, but wanted to be able to commit the time, so she waited until she moved off campus.

"You have to be in the group for the right reasons because the focus is not on how cute the puppy is, it's about the great work they're going to be doing," said senior Riley Sheppard, the president of Miami's 4 Paws chapter. "We try to think of the dogs as a life-saving tool."

When she started her senior year, Hailey finally decided to become a foster.

The student fosters get the dogs when they're three to four months old and have already been through basic training in 4 Paws' prison program. The dogs then spend a full semester with the fosters in the hopes of graduating from the program and being placed with a family for service.

Hailey worked with a black lab named Kendy during fall semester - getting her accustomed to a routine, working on commands and most importantly, socializing her with people.

While there were challenges and mistakes along the way, Hailey loved having Kendy around.

"I always tell people that it's very humbling because they're puppies and so they make a lot of mistakes, and they make embarrassing mistakes and you're kind of the one people turn to when that happens," Hailey said.

On Jan. 31, Kendy knew something was wrong when Hailey put her in the car. Hailey sat beside her through a final training session and gave her a big hug when it was time to say goodbye.

Hailey won't deny that she cried a lot that day. It made it even harder for Hailey knowing she wouldn't see Kendy again at graduation because Kendy had been chosen to be a breeder dog. But Kendy had reached a point were she was practically self-sufficient - ready to move on to bigger and better things and breed another generation of service dogs - so Hailey was proud.

"It makes it all worth it once you see it in the end that they're going to be with a family and they're helping someone, and you know that you're helping a small piece of their lives change," senior foster Kelli Kinderdine said.

This semester's "puppy pick up" went a little differently and actually happened on the same day that the fosters gave back their previous dogs. Going from one dog to the next in only five minutes made the transition more difficult for the fosters.

But being around new, enthusiastic puppies changed the mood instantly.

Hailey got to meet her short, fluffy Labrador golden mix, Howleen, better known as Holly, only minutes after saying goodbye to Kendy.

"It's jarring to go back to phase one again," Hailey said.

She has to remember that Holly's only a puppy and has a lot to learn. Hailey has to adjust her schedule to make sure Holly gets into a routine and learns everything necessary to be the best service dog possible.

"As much work as it is, it's really fun to watch them experience things for the first time," said Hailey.

Recently, Holly got confused when she had to walk in the rain, not understanding why she was wet. She's fascinated by grass and can be seen pouncing on leaves that blow in front of her path. Hailey loves watching Holly act like a diva when people gather around to pet her.

"It's a really, really nice way to make a difference for a really busy, active college kid," Hailey said.