Four Paws Forward
Words by Shelbie Goulding | Photos by Kassi Jackson
Maxwell Newberry strolls along the crowded, college student-filled Esplanade. Unfamiliar faces with wide grins pass by. They rarely smile at him though, their eyes wandering down to the furry creature trotting alongside. The large animal could double for a young bear, but a red vest adorned to its back identifies it as a dog, a Newfoundland puppy hiding under a layer of overbearing fur. His name is Buckeye, and he’s a 4 Paws for Ability service dog in training.
Newberry joined the nonprofit organization in Spring 2017 to help train puppies like Buckeye, and is now the president of the program. When volunteering for 4 Paws, students take on the task of raising and training future service dogs, altering their everyday lifestyles to accommodate the puppies placed under their care.
“It takes real leaders to raise and train a future service dog,” Newberry says. “Patience, compassion and determination.” The group, which holds 25 puppies at a time, received about 500 applications from eager students this semester.
Newberry could not be more serious about his commitment as a trainer, mostly because the dogs in the program become service animals for children with disabilities and veterans who have lost their use of limbs or hearing. “Dogs learn at different paces, just like humans,” he says. “It takes time and dedication to commit to this organization.”
Hannah Jaros, the co-coordinator of 4 Paws at Kent State, agrees on the seriousness of volunteering in this organization. “You’re not simply raising and socializing a dog for yourself, but for someone who needs this dog to get through their daily activities,” Jaros says. “These dogs have such a huge impact on those they are placed with, which is a lot of weight on our shoulders.”
Volunteers spend countless months training a puppy like their own until the time comes to pass the furry friends along to someone who needs the help. It’s not an easy goodbye — Newberry knows from experience.
His first dog was Lilith, a golden retriever Newberry still sees in 4 Paws, but who is now being trained by another member. “When I left Lilith, it was rough,” he says. “I was used to her coming home with me every day and being a part of my daily schedule.”
Newberry says it took time to get used to not having Lilith as part of his schedule anymore, an adjustment for the dog, too. “This one time, Lilith was brought to my home, and she jumped out of her trainer’s car and ran straight to my door ready to go inside like she used to. We sadly had to put her back in the car, though,” he says. “It was very emotional to watch her remember.”
Jaros is also training her second puppy since joining 4 Paws for Ability, but unlike Newberry, she doesn’t see the dog anymore. “You don’t think you’re going to get attached in the beginning, but you really do,” she says.
Although the dog has moved to the next phase in its life, Jaros likes to think positively of her opportunity to make the transition easier. “I like thinking about the future things the dog is going to do for its permanent owner,” she says. “Knowing the dog you trained is going to have such a positive impact on somebody else’s life is such a blessing.”
This parting of ways after a dog passes evaluation tests isn’t new for Newberry or Jaros, but for first-time trainers like Aleah Burris, is a new concept. Burris’ first assigned puppy with 4 Paws for Ability is Bridge, a black Labrador.
“It’s going to be one of the saddest moments but it’s so good for him,” Burris says. “It would be selfish of me not to be happy for Bridge; he’s a great dog and someone that needs him really deserves him.”
Even though separation anxiety is inevitable for the trainers and dog lovers involved, members continue to devote their time to fostering droves of dogs that will improve the lives of others.
“It’s difficult having to spend every day with them knowing they will be gone one day,” Newberry says. “We all get attached and it can be emotional, but this is our job.”
Shelbie Goudling is a writer, contact her at email@example.com.
Look for the Fall 2017 issue of The Burr Magazine, on stands Tuesday, Nov. 28.