By Grace Apostol
A new furry friend has joined the student body at Washington College. A 12-week old black lab puppy named Max arrived on campus earlier this semester to begin his training as a service dog.
As part of the WC organization Fetching Freedom, student members of the club are training Max.
President of Fetching Freedom junior Grace Paquin has been a member of the group since her freshman year.
“I hold all the meetings and I am the main liaison between the club and the organization we raise for, Fidos for Freedom,” Paquin said. “It is something I did in high school, and fell in love with, and it is just a way to help people in the future and it is really exciting.”
According to their website, Fidos For Freedom is a non-profit organization that, “is run by a dedicated group of volunteers who strive to increase the quality of life for people living in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan community through the use of hearing dogs, service dogs and therapy dogs.”
Through this program, located in Laurel, Md., Fetching Freedom members are able to train puppies to potentially become service dogs.
“We [had] to get approval through the school,” Paquin said regarding the process of Max’s acceptance to be trained at WC. “Then Fidos said, ‘Hey we have a puppy for you.’”
Coming from a group located in Marvin, N.C. named Project to Heal, Max is one of many labs that were donated by the organization to Fidos For Freedom according to Paquin.
To be eligible to raise and train a puppy, a WC student must be a member of the club Fetching Freedom, as well as fill out applications that are open in the fall and spring, according to Paquin.
Seniors and four-year members of the organization Amara Sorosiak and Archer Bergmann filled out this application to raise Max.
“I wanted them to make sure they had that experience before they graduated,” Paquin said regarding Sorosiak and Bergmann’s approvals to be trainers to Max.
Sorosiak said that she has been a part of the process of receiving Max to be trained on-campus since before he was born.
“Grace, Archer, and I began talking with Fidos and working out the logistics of getting another puppy last semester,” Sorosiak said. “This summer we received the news that they had another puppy for us to train and socialize on campus, and we picked Max up at the start of the semester. All three of us went to pick him up and got him acclimated to life at WC.”
Now that his training has commenced, as a secondary trainer to the puppy, Sorosiak believes the training has been going well, despite his chewing and barking.
“I think it’s going pretty well,” she said. “Max is a very mild-tempered dog and doesn’t get nervous in new places or situations…he’s still a puppy, though, which means he’s teething and it’s hard to get him to stop chewing on everything, and he needs to unlearn demand barking. But overall, he’s becoming more responsive to commands, loves people, and loves sleeping during class… Fidos follows a positive affirmation training model with their dogs, so we reward him for any and all good behavior.”
According to Paquin, after he has finished a year of training at WC, Max will go to the Prison Program affiliated with Fidos for Freedom. After six to eight months there, Max then will go to formal training to learn specific tasks as a service dog and be matched with an owner.
On the Fidos For Freedom website, there is an in-depth explanation of the Prison Program.
“Fidos For Freedom has a ‘partnership’ with a federal prison,” the website said. “Under a Memorandum of Understanding, Fidos has placed dogs in the minimum security men’s prison in Cumberland, Md…The dogs have made a big difference at the prison, putting smiles on people’s faces and offering unconditional love. The inmates also take a correspondence class that earns them a certificate of learning.”
Though Max is new to campus, he is not the first dog to be raised on campus by a WC student.
“The College has raised puppies in the past, one of which is now in advanced training, Jeffery, and another an active service dog [named] Autumn,” Sorosiak said.
According to Paquin, the club hopes to train another puppy on campus.
If any student wants to become involved with the Fetching Freedom club, and subsequently apply for future puppy training opportunities, both Paquin and Sorosiak share positive sentiments on the organization.
“It brings a lot of visibility to service dogs for students on campus, and it is just a really great environment for puppies because they get so much socialization,” Paquin said.
To echo this, Sorosiak said that a college campus and the club is a great place for a puppy to learn skills, all while students learn from the puppy.
“Colleges, especially ones like ours, are tight-knit, walkable communities, which means plenty of places for a puppy to explore on a small scale, so they’re perfect for preliminary training. And college students tend to love puppies…I think it’s very important that people learn about these animals, their responsibilities, and how to properly interact with someone who has a service animal, as they’re a huge facet of the disabled community.”
For students to be a part of this club, they can attend Fetching Freedom weekly meetings where, according to Sorosiak, they “[discuss] raising service animals, the importance of them, do hands-on training, and get to have playtime with Max at the end.”
Though Max has only been here for a few weeks, he is very excited to continue his growth and learning as a service dog in-training at the College.
Photo courtesy of Grace Paquin
Photo Caption: Max is a three-month-old black Labrador retriever puppy that can be seen around campus as he is being trained.