Sparky's Service Dogs raise puppies on campus for a cause

This unique club on campus gives students the opportunity to raise service dogs

A day in the life of Sparky's Service Dogs president Taylor Randle is not one of an average ASU student.

Randle is raising two dogs through Sparky's Service Dogs at ASU, an organization on campus that collaborates with Power Paws, a nonprofit based in Scottsdale.

According to the Power Paws website, its mission is to provide assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities. It seeks to be a support system and a resource in the community for people with disabilities.

Power Paws reached out to ASU in 2014 for the opportunity to meet students who would be interested in raising service dogs. Randle became involved right away, and the organization was able to team up with ASU to create Sparky's Service Dogs. 

"Students have so much energy and passion and are so dedicated to accomplishing their goals," Jessa Sterling, canine developments coordinator and trainer at Power Paws, said. "By creating a student run organization, we were able to help cover costs for student raisers and also create a community of student raisers to support one another."

Randle said Sparky's Service Dogs is growing with every semester.With roughly 300 members, the club is open to anyone despite schedule restrictions, as there are multiple ways students can get involved. 

General members attend public events, fundraise and play with puppies. Members can go a step further by taking training classes and handling hours to earn jacket privilege, where they can take a dog for a couple of hours or even for an entire day. Raisers make a two-year commitment to raising and training a puppy.

Currently the club has 12 dogs and 11 raisers. Randle is raising two dogs. Signing up to be a raiser comes with a list of expectations because they can’t have students giving dogs back after a couple of months.

“It’s basically like raising a child,” Randle said.

Puppies are placed with raisers when the dogs are between eight and 12 weeks old. Once a puppy reaches 16 weeks, it is able to go on campus and out in public.

“College life is the perfect experience for our dogs, because it’s a lot of hurry up and then chill,” Randle said.

Raising Service Dogs on Campus from The State Press on Vimeo. Video by Michael Baron.

Having to get through campus with the distractions of people, bikes, scooters and cars followed by going to class while remaining calm is prefect for their training. The dogs have to be able to go along with their partners no matter the condition of the situation.

Randle said she isn't quite sure that her puppy, Vail, will be able to sit through an entire class period right away, so she will start by taking her to the library for 20 to 30 minutes at a time until she can reach full class length.

There are three different types of training classes at Power Paws. A normal session consists of either learning new behaviors, perfecting learned behaviors or going through simulations. An outing session is when the dogs go out in public and work on good manners and practicing behaviors. An evaluation is when the dogs are tested and rated on a scale of one to five in order to see what areas still need work.

Raisers also put their dogs through a home training session. For ten to 15 minutes, they practice and prefect behaviors.

The program’s dogs are trained to work through all situations and distractions. They travel by bus, cars, taxies and the light rail. Raisers bring their dogs to movie theaters, where dogs have to sit through surround sound noise. They are also trained to deal with most weather conditions, construction, other dogs, kids and people.

Randle said it is important that people ask before they pet a service dog because they are working animals. Distracting a service dog could result in serious consequences.

She gave the example of a man who pet a woman’s seizure alert dog without permission and distracted the animal. The woman began to have a seizure, causing her to fall and injure herself because the dog was not able to do its job.

Power Paws specializes in training dogs for post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetic alert, mobility impairment and courthouse dogs. The dogs are trained in all of these, and its best skill is selected.

Randle said her dog, Kristoff, chose diabetic alert. He is trained to be able to identify and alert their partner, with type-one diabetes of low and high glucose levels, up to 30 minutes faster than pumps.

Between a year and a half to two years, the dog leaves its raiser and goes to a month long boot camp, where an advanced trainer finishes up training with its new partner. 

“I am dreading the day,” Randle said about Kristoff leaving her. “I now have a puppy to dry my tears with.”

Following boot camp, the dog spends six months with its partner without any contact from its raiser.

After the six months have passed, the dog graduates the program and the raiser officially hands the leash over to their new partner. Kristoff will be the first dog to graduate from Sparky’s Service Dogs at ASU.

Sparky’s Service Dogs fundraises so that the club can cover any required medical tests and portions of other unexpected medical bills. If the dog has an emergency room visit, the raiser will pay for it, then submit a receipt to the officers, who will decide how much the club can cover.

The students raising service dogs learn how to manage time and make adjustments to their life and find it incredibly rewarding. 

“I don’t think I could give this up for the world,” Randle said. “It has changed my life in so many ways.”

Even on the challenging days, when criminal justice junior Emily Hopkins feels like her dog, Quantico isn't cooperating, she tells herself, "I have to stick with it because you're going to do something really great."


Reach the reporter at gbachara@asu.edu or follow @gabriellabachar on Twitter.

Reach the videographer at michael.baron@asu.edu or on twitter @Michael_Baron_96 

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