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4 Paws students decide to leave program

Sally Kershner
Features Editor

Following a change of policy for the application process for the organization 4 Paws for Ability, the student volunteers of the service program have decided to discontinue the program at The College of Wooster. This decision was concluded after Megan Zerrer ’18, the 4 Paws for Ability program coordinator, and other student puppy raisers agreed that they felt the policy changes did not reflect well on the moral standards and code of ethics that the College, Wooster Volunteer Network (WVN) and students stand for. As a result, no service dog training program will be on campus starting fall 2018.

The previous policy for the application process required students to apply through the current student leaders of the campus program, then through WVN and lastly through the organization 4 Paws for Ability. However, Madelaine Braver ’18, a student who has been volunteering with 4 Paws since fall 2015, explained that the group felt the new policy took away necessary regulations that ensure a safe and appropriate space for a service animal.

“[4 Paws] changed it [so] that anyone from school could apply to 4 Paws with no intermediary action at the College, which could be good for a huge state school, like The Ohio State University which has 200 puppy sitters and dozens of dogs, but this took away some ability of the College to regulate who did and didn’t get service dogs in training (SDIT) on campus,” said Braver. The lack of regulation from the College in the service programs poses problems of well-being and safety for a SDIT on campus.

“If someone living in Bissman double, or say a Bissman single, wanted a dog from 4 Paws, they could apply and be approved without permission from me, [Residence Life] or WVN,” said Zerrer. “So, if they knew we had a cap of [four] dogs, and 50 people applied, they could pick whatever people they wanted. I had no say or control. That is what started the conversations with administration.”

With the organization’s oversight at the caps on the number of SDITs allowed on small, private campuses, the volunteers directly asked about the success of past SDITs, but the organization offered vague, unclear answers. According to Braver, Nathan Fein, the director of Residence Life, and other members of the administration had tried to press for answers, but with limited success.

“There is a lack of transparency. We were asking questions [of 4 Paws] and getting very limited responses,” said Braver. “We had to send them a list of names of dogs that had been on this campus, but they didn’t have it on file that these dogs had been at Wooster. We sent them that list of 37 dogs on campus asking where did they go and only 11 have been placed as service dogs and two are in advanced training and only three are being fostered.”

Not only did the organization fail to keep records of the SDITs, but 4 Paws was not placing SDITs appropriately when there was a “Flunky,” meaning they opt the dog out for adoption as pets instead of continuing training to help those in need. The student volunteers were not granted information as to where their SDIT went after their time together or if they were effectively placed with a disabled child or veteran.

The administration recognized that the process of discontinuation has occurred in the middle of the school year and emphasized that no one was forced to give up their SDIT. While most of the students have returned their SDIT, one group on campus is still in possession of one. For the fall of 2018 and onward, the 4 Paws program will be discontinued and no students will foster a SDIT until another service animal program is put in place. When asked for comment, Fein also confirmed that no new houses this fall will be associated with 4 Paws for Ability.

Even though the 4 Paws program is discontinued, Zerrer and other students are still dedicated to searching for a new service animal program to host at the College. However, there are some challenges for this search; Zerrer added that issues of distance, financial instability and lack of non-profit based organizations are present concerns for choosing a service animal program.

“Obviously we are well known on the campus community, especially the dogs, and we want to make the greater campus community aware of why the program was discontinued. This wasn’t forced upon us and it sucks for everyone, but I think realizing that the organization no longer aligned itself with our moral standards as a campus community helps ease the discontinuation,” said Zerrer. “Continuing the program knowing that 4 Paws doesn’t align well with our moral standards would have been a greater insult to what the greater community stands for.”

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