Assistance pup-in-training enriches uni life for Pharmacy student Sarah

Calling all La Trobe staff and students… thinking of putting your hand up to care for an assistance-dog-in-training? Pharmacy student Sarah might just convince you.

She’s pictured here with her second black lab, Rosie; the perfect name for a pup who arrived on Valentine’s Day.

“Raising my first pup Sophie last year was such a rewarding experience,” Sarah says, on her decision to welcome a second lab into her life.

The puppies are part of a Bendigo Campus Dog Lab research project to train assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD.

“I recently met one of the veterans involved in the program who shared their story with me,” Sarah says. “Knowing how these dogs were going to impact on the lives of others encouraged me to take on another puppy.

“When I said goodbye to Sophie at the start of February I definitely had mixed emotions, it was sad to see her go, but also a really proud moment because I had done everything I could for her and she was going to go on and help to change someone’s life.”

Five-month-old Rosie is settling into Sarah’s life well. The pup loves exploring, cuddles and belly rubs. “She also loves chewing whatever she can get her mouth on so that has been a challenge sometimes,” says Sarah, who adds she’s been a great companion during isolation.

“Having a pup around gives me a reason to stick to more of a routine, and to get outside to exercise her.  She’s a good companion and always there wanting to play when I need a break.”

Sarah says it’s a shame Rosie won’t get the same on-campus experience her first puppy did. Next month Sarah will finish her studies, and she and Rosie will be moving on together, albeit with a strong tie to La Trobe thanks to the research project.

“Having Sophie meant I probably got to know my classmates more because I would talk to them while they patted my dog between classes last year,” she says. “If I didn’t really want to go to a class that was recorded I would tell myself to go so Sophie could get more training in and she would spend time with me in the library while I studied so she could get more exposure and practice being behaved in public.  

“It’s been hard not being able to take Rosie to classes, and I’m sad for my classmates who will miss out on that experience, too. I’ve been trying to get her in on some of my Zoom workshops instead, so hopefully that has made some people smile.”

Rosie is one of several Bendigo-based assistance dogs in need of care this year, and researchers are still looking for a few staff and student volunteers to care for a pup during its training.

“There is plenty of spaces for people who want to get involved and I really encourage it,” Sarah says. “Even if they can’t have a dog living with them, they can be a socialiser and take a dog for a few hours a week.”

“If interested they can email DogsOnCampus@latrobe.edu.au.” 

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