A new club at Carroll College is raising puppies to be service dogs for those in need.
The Collar Scholars club was started by two anthrozoology students in November. Seniors Ashley Wilt and Alyson Galow both have a history of raising puppies, which led them to pursue careers related to animal behavior and interactions with humans.
"Puppy raisers are kind of attracted to each other," Wilt said.
The club teamed up with nationwide nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence, which puts the dogs through professional training and places them with disabled individuals in need. Wilt said these dogs are typically valued at around $50,000 but are placed freely by Canine Companions.
The Collar Scholars receive 8-week-old puppies that they train in over 30 different commands and behaviors over the course of 18 months. After receiving that training, the dogs return to Canine Companions in California, where they go through professional training to be an assistance dog. They are then placed with individuals who have disabilities free of charge.
Galow said these dogs are trained to do various tasks to increase their handler's independence, like picking up dropped items, opening and closing doors, turning on lights and helping to pull manual wheelchairs.
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"As a college club, we get to expose puppies in training to the college lifestyle, showing them what everyday life could be like. As future service dogs, being exposed to the hustle and bustle of campus life, lectures, and athletics is an excellent precursor for their upcoming careers. For our student puppy raisers, the experience is life-changing," Galow said. "These students learn not only how to expertly train a dog from a young age, but also how to become better advocates for those with disabilities, how to speak with all different populations, more about disability etiquette and how to educate the communities they live in. As a club on campus we get to help fulfill the Carroll mission of serving others."
The Collar Scholars is one of many collegiate puppy raising clubs throughout the country, but are notably the first of their kind in Montana. Galow said the group looks forward to bringing club events to Helena, educating and serving the community.
The pair agreed that they are a little disappointed that they waited three years into their college experience to start this club. However, they are both confident that the junior members are showing significant enthusiasm about taking over the club next year.
"I think we will be sad to leave it, but we believe in the mission," Wilt said.
The Collar Scholars have between 25 and 30 members, and eight of them are currently raising puppies. Participation in the club doesn't require a student to raise a puppy and Galow said there are numerous opportunities to be involved without raising a puppy. These opportunities include communications, tech support and more. The group has grown significantly since its first club meetings over zoom in the past few months and there are more opportunities for interested students to be involved with the Collar Scholars.
Additionally, the club has members from different majors all across the college, not just anthrozoology students. Galow said the club has members majoring in engineering, biology, business and more.
"I think it's kind of hard to not be enthusiastic about it when you see the results," Galow said.