Lola the Labrador may not have graduated from puppy school just yet, but already she’s shaping up to be a star alumna.
“She’s good company and comfort, and a good distraction if I’m stressed about something,” says her raiser, Steph George.
Lola has accompanied the Bendigo Bachelor of Health Science student through life for almost 12 months. She’s one of eight puppies on campus taking part in a pilot study to better understand how assistance dogs could help Australian war veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
“She’ll jump up if you seem anxious,” Steph says. “She’ll react to alarms to wake people up and she’ll interrupt nightmares. Plus, she’s a good reason to get out of the house, because with a dog you have to.”
Steph decided to foster a pup after moving to Bendigo to study, sans the family pets.
“I really love dogs, but I don’t have a backyard big enough for one,” she says, adding that doesn’t matter so much with an assistance dog-in-training, as Lola can go wherever she does.
“I give myself an extra half an hour to get anywhere because people want to stop me and talk about her – I don’t mind because it’s giving people an awareness of the program.”
During the uni break Steph has been taking Lola to Melbourne for puppy play dates with her future owner, a veteran with PTSD.
“He just loves her,” Steph says. “Obviously it’s going to be difficult for me to see her go, but she’s got a job to do. I’ve been telling her since day one that she’s got to move out and get a real job one day.”
That day will be made a little easier for Steph, as she prepares to welcome a new puppy in the coming weeks.
The La Trobe University Dog Lab is set to welcome another ten puppies onto campus next month.
Students and staff will help raise and socialise the pups as they undergo their training to become assistance dogs.
Steph’s experience with Lola is also shaping her plans post-uni. She is aiming to use her health degree to work in the assistance dog field after graduation.
Current staff and students interested in caring for a pup in 2020 should email email@example.com