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The life of a student in university housing often revolves around microwavable food, finding mystery hairballs in the laundry and coffee-induced study sessions. But for a select few, dorm life is a lot like parenting.

Patrick McCarthy, Emily Hopkins and Katie Durheim are not only college students, they are also the proud trainers and caretakers of three future service dogs.

Sparky’s Service Dogs at ASU works with Power Paws to make trainers out of any student willing to commit to the full-time job.

“I knew I wanted to handle and then the opportunity to raise on campus came up, and I was having a pretty good semester so I figured I might as well do it. It’s a really good way to give back to the community,” said Durheim, an international business sophomore raising Quest, a black lab about six-months-old.

Power Paws is an organization based in Scottsdale that works with assistance dog teams to provide well-trained service animals to community members with disabilities.

McCarthy, a biological sciences junior, was inspired to join after seeing club president Taylor Randle working with her dog in Tempe. He said he thought he would only get certified to handle and babysit dogs when their raisers needed a hand.

“They kind of brought up raising to me, and I didn’t even hesitate, it was just a yes to me,” McCarthy said. “So I did all my handling hours and then, that same day, they tried to pawn a dog off on me! I needed a little extra time to get the dorm’s approval, but they were pretty quick with it.”

Sparky’s Service Dog members, who complete training and commit to raising, are responsible for taking in a three-month-old puppy, usually a lab or golden retriever, and preparing it for advanced training over the course of about two years. Then, if the dog passes the advanced courses, it will go on to serve a person in need of specialized assistance.

The dogs are required to learn skills ranging from alerting a person with Type 1 diabetes of low blood sugar to opening cabinets and doors for those with limited mobility.

“Every time we enter a building I look and see if there’s a handicap button," Durheim said. "If there is, I make her press it and we don’t go in the building until she presses it."

The dogs’ skills are tested on a monthly basis, so the raisers try to take advantage of any chance they get to squeeze in little lessons throughout the day. Assistance dog raisers also get to teach their puppies cues to execute tasks for their future owners.

However, being a college student training a puppy poses its own set of complications.

Although it took a while, getting permission to get his 4 1/2 month old black lab, Gonzo, in his dorm room was surprisingly easy. After a basic phone interview, and clearing the dog with the housing office and head of security, he hasn’t had any problems.

McCarthy just started raising Gonzo about a month ago at Taylor Place Residential Hall on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix Campus.

“The Taylor Place dorms are kind of small, so it’s kind of hard to keep my stuff out of the mouth of a 4 1/2 month-old, teething puppy,” McCarthy said.

The new dog is not their only cohabiter, University housing usually comes with human roommates, too.

Having separate doors helps make it a more agreeable living situation for McCarthy and his roommate.

Hopkins, a criminal justice and criminology sophomore currently raising Quantico, a six month old black lab, said the Power Paws’ application for raising a puppy requires roommates to sign off on the furry addition before it becomes official.

Luckily for these three, their roommates were fairly excited by the prospect of having a dog around.

One of the bigger issues the residence hall presents has been the logistics of raising a dog in such close quarters with other students.

Durheim and Hopkins live in the Vista del Sol complex in Tempe. Both of them summed up their past three months of raising with one word: messy.

“Sometimes it’s really stressful because I feel like when she makes a mess it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to get kicked out? Am I going to ruin the program for everybody?’” Durheim said.

Hopkins said she thinks the hardest part is constantly being surrounded by other people. It’s difficult not to draw attention when she leaves in the morning.

She said people always want to pet Quantico, saying she has to remind them that service dogs in jackets should not be disturbed.

Durheim offered some advice for students, especially those living in a residential hall or apartment, who may want to raise a puppy with Sparky’s Service Dogs.

“Know that you will not sleep through the night until they’re at least six months old,” Derheim said. “Schedule an extra thirty minutes to get anywhere. Don’t live on the third floor of a building.”

The truest test of for all three students living in mid-rise housing has not been on a scantron. It’s the call of nature.

“At least once a week she thinks she can make it, and I’ll let her walk, and then we’re in the hallway and she starts peeing,” Durheim said.

All dog raisers with Sparky’s Service Dogs still have to go to class and finish their homework, too.

Usually the dogs sleep under the desk in class, but sometimes they get restless and start finding makeshift chew toys, Hopkins said.

She recalled a hungry Quantico crying through one of her late classes this semester.

Durheim, on the other hand, believes that although Quest requires plenty of time and attention, she is still able to manage a busy student life.

“I’m taking 18 credits this semester … and I work,” Durheim said. “(Quest) comes to work with me at Zoyo. She sleeps underneath the cash register.”

McCarthy and Gonzo are getting ready to graduate puppy kindergarten soon. When they begin adult classes during the summer, McCarthy must Skype in to weekly meetings.

“They really want people to commit to it, so you have to know ahead of time, ‘Yeah, I can commit a year or two of (my) time to raising this dog,’” Hopkins said.

Power Paws and Sparky’s Service Dogs raisers are expected to practice plenty of patience, and to take the responsibility of raising a future assistance dog seriously.

“It’s a lot of extra work, but honestly it’s worth it to see her progressing,” Durheim said. “You definitely have to be willing to put in the time.”

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