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Otis, a new resident of the Athens County Dog Shelter, on Aug 30, 2022.

Fostering furry friends for a cause

Ohio University's 4 Paws for Ability gives students the opportunity to truly help someone– both people and dogs.

The organization was founded in Xenia, OH, in 1998 and provides service dogs to those who can't afford them. The non-profit breeds, raises, trains and places service dogs with children and veterans with disabilities. The organization has now spread to college campuses across Ohio, where students can help train puppies to become service dogs.

Frankie Broughton, a junior studying history, is the co-president of the OU chapter and said the main goal lies in pairing dogs and people.

"4 Paws for Ability specifically helps children and veteran because they are the ones with the least amount of ability to get a dog," Broughton said.

Josie Clark, a junior studying child and family studies and also co-president of the chapter, said the club works on awareness.

"Spreading awareness for how to interact with service dogs or service dogs in training, spreading awareness of the difference between emotional support animals versus service dogs because there's big differences there (are goals)," she said. 

Students who live off campus can foster a puppy from 4 Paws For Ability to socialize the dogs to stimuli and prepare them for different situations. Broughton expressed how adaptability is a big part of the foster program because the organization mainly focuses on service dogs for children. 

"... If their handler goes off to college, then they can see kind of how that living situation works," she said. 

Students who live on campus can be secondary handlers and will bring the dogs with them to class, around campus and Athens as well. One of the dogs, Kelvin, has a busy schedule with his secondary handlers. 

"He's out Monday through Friday and different secondary handlers handle him and take them to like classes and take him to go up to Court Street and just taking the Walmart and that kind of stuff," Broughton said. "So if you cannot foster a dog and have that level of commitment, there's still an option for you."

Clark believes this training is vital for the dogs, and the club is currently trying to integrate the puppies into OU's dorm life so they grow more accustomed to the lifestyle. 

"If those children go on to college, they're going to have to know how to live in a dorm setting," she said. "So building it into their training on the front end is going to benefit them down the line and also like if they end up living in a small apartment or somewhere with a lot of noise." 

Clark explained that in her public speaking class, the dogs have become a part of the class routine, and class starts with "five minutes of puppy time." According to Clark, her professor claimed he saw an improvement in the class' work. 

"He said that the speeches in this class have been some of the best that he's ever experienced," she said. "And he's like, 'honestly, I gotta credit it to sometimes having a puppy in the room like people do a little better when they can go and pet a puppy before class.'" 

The organization is still actively recruiting members for next semester; dues are $10 per semester, and they go toward events around campus for the dogs and hosting fundraisers. 

Fostering and training these dogs is very rewarding, according to Broughton.

"It's an amazing opportunity," she said. "For me, I just like knowing that all this hard work can help somebody in the future."

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