Making a Pawsitive Impact, One Pup at a Time

Gatton Students Making a Difference with 4 Paws for Ability

When you think of college life, what stirs in your mind? Late-night study sessions, bustling dining halls, and time spent in office hours, maybe. But for some Gatton students, there’s another, furrier dimension to their university experience. If you have roamed our campus as of late, chances are you’ve noticed some four-legged friends in red vests wagging around and capturing everybody’s hearts.

These furry pals are service dogs in training through the 4 Paws for Ability program. The organization is dedicated to training service dogs for individuals with disabilities and offering support to our veterans and their families.

Within Gatton College and UK, students actively participate as volunteer trainers in the Service Dog in Training Program. These dedicated students open their hearts and their homes to young service dogs in training (SDiTs), providing them with essential socialization, basic obedience, house manners, and fundamental service dog skills. These devoted student volunteers have the dogs 24/7; they take them to class, home on breaks, work or internships, the library, and anywhere in between. Once the SDiT is ready, they either graduate to advanced training where they learn any number of skills from mobility assistance to medical emergency detection, or they are placed with a loving family.

Nick Osborne and Sarah Carr are just two Gatton students who have been active participants in this program, helping train over 65 pups between the two of them. Nick, an accounting major and global scholar, first became involved with the program during his freshman year when he began to miss his own dogs from back home. Sarah, a double major in economics and management with a minor in business analytics, had service dog training in her mind from a young age. Witnessing the incredible work being done by other trainers, they couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of something remarkable. Both students joined the club early on and began training pups as soon as they could.

Each of these two outstanding students has volunteered in a different capacity; Nick started out as a secondary handler, only watching the SDiTs when their primary handler couldn’t. In this role, he was able to impact the lives of more than 60 dogs and the families they eventually went to or will go to. Later on, Nick became a primary handler for two pups, Pappy, then Gilligan. Sarah, as a primary handler, received her first SDiT, Talenti, during her freshman year. Now with her fifth foster, Babe, Sarah looks forward to walking the graduation line with her and then seeing her future family receive her. Most recently, both students had an SDiT to receive their final placement. Nick’s foster, Pappy, and Sarah’s foster, Ivory, both graduated from advanced training and were placed with their forever family this year. Both dogs have eased the family’s minds and worries. As Sarah says, many families are skeptical about going out in public due to concerns about the safety of their child and oftentimes can’t leave their child alone, even at night in their own home, because of health concerns. With a skillfully trained service dog, their worries are ease. No matter what a service dog is trained for, the families’ lives are forever changed for the better.

Although the 24/7 commitment can be tiring and burdensome, both students agree the program is rewarding and one of their best experiences in college. No doubt, those moments of pride when their dogs graduate will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Amidst challenges and hectic schedules, their steadfast dedication has triumphed over any difficulties that have arisen. For Nick, some of the behavioral struggles of the dogs have been tough challenges to work around. His most recent SDiT, Gilligan, did not graduate Advanced Training and became a fabulous flunky, becoming a regular family pet for a lucky family. For Sarah, working around her busy class and work schedule has been tough. While trying to complete internships, it became difficult to bring her SDiT with her each day and she had to rely on secondary handlers some days. Despite those challenges, Gatton has been a great support system for both Nick and Sarah. From professors to fellow students and everyone in between, their dogs have been loved so well by our community, which helps the trainers and positively impacts the dogs’ time at Gatton. It goes both ways, though, and the dogs also positively impact Gatton and our students. Who wouldn’t be excited to go to class when they know they’ll get to see a cute dog?

While the SDiTs look to their future of advanced training and being the newest and cutest member of a lucky family, Nick and Sarah are looking toward graduation and their future careers. Sarah, after graduating in 2024, will begin working full-time at HouseRight Production, where she is currently a purchasing specialist. Nick graduates in 2025 and has a particular interest in forensic and certified public accounting. However, 4 Paws has opened his mind to working for, or even starting, a non-profit organization. Nick says he wants to continue being a volunteer trainer for 4 Paws even in his future full-time job.

As Nick and Sarah near their graduation and prepare for their future careers, they reflect on the invaluable experiences they’ve gained as volunteer trainers with 4 Paws for Ability. Despite the challenges and busy schedules, their unwavering commitment has not only transformed the lives of service dogs but also enhanced their own college journey.

As these two remarkable students look toward the next chapter in their lives, they carry with them the cherished memories of puppies growing into service dogs, families whose lives have been forever changed, and a Gatton College community that rallied around them and their four-legged companions.

The journey with 4 Paws has not just been about training dogs; it’s been about changing lives, fostering compassion, and leaving a lasting legacy. These furry companions have added a unique, heartwarming dimension to the Gatton College experience.

And, as they walk at graduation and embark on their future, the paw prints they’ve left on the hearts of many are a reminder that the impact of service, compassion, and dedication can be felt by all, both on and off campus.