Letter to the Editor: TUSTEP dogs not your toy

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Dear Puppy Love,

I’m sorry you got “utterly tenderized” by your Spanish exam, and I am also sorry that one of our pups was not able to offer you consolation following that. What I am not sorry for is sticking to my dog’s training in that moment. To clarify, the type of training we use with our dogs is called positive reinforcement, which you have no doubt learned about in PSYC 1000. We use petting as a reward for our dogs, so they know their behavior is correct. The problem is that someone other than their handler petting them whilst on cape can be detrimental to that learning process, especially when they are little puppies and still learning when they are and are not working.

Dogs can, and have, been released (service dog slang for honorably discharged) from the program for distractibility while working with a handler due to situations exactly like this. So I ask next time you want to pet one of our puppies and it is working, think about the people from whom you may be taking away a life-changing opportunity. The veteran with PTSD who fought for your rights, the deaf woman who can’t hear her children calling when they need her, the man with no control over his legs who can’t pick up his wallet when he drops it. These are the people we are working to help.

Our dogs serve a greater purpose than many people ever will, and that purpose is what we’re training for.

I understand also that it doesn’t seem too daunting to simply remove the puppy’s vest when we see someone who looks like they could use a pick-me-up, but our dogs thrive on consistency and need their training to be regimented.

Never mind that you can’t walk two feet on this campus without seeing someone who could use some puppy love. We have things to do too. It is early in their training, so the rules are far more rigid, but once they start to recognize their place in our society, asking to pet a dog may work out in your favor. Instead of dipping your shoulder down to stroke his back as if we won’t notice (we will), just ask the raiser, “Hey! I’m having a ruff day, can I pet your dog?” More often than not? The answer will be yes.

If you show respect for our process, we are more than willing to let you reap the benefits of our furry friends.

Where’s the chill? The chill is in changing someone’s life in a way few of us will ever understand. Trust me, we don’t hate you. In fact, we thank you for this opportunity to fulfill the education part of our mission.

WOOF,

Tulane University Service-Dog Training and Education Program member Kiersten Rankel 

Written on behalf of and with the contributions of all TUSTEP puppy raisers.