KOKOMO, Ind. – It usually would be frowned upon to fall asleep in class. But when Ray decides it’s time for a snooze, he gets nothing but approval.
Going to Indiana University Kokomo is a big job for a 14-week-old puppy, after all.
Ray experiences campus life with senior Brittney Morton, who volunteers as a puppy starter for the Indiana Canine Assistance Network (ICAN), raising and socializing dogs from 8 to 16 weeks old until they are assigned to a prison training program at 20 weeks.
“This gives me purpose,” said Morton, from Indianapolis. “To put effort into something and know it’s going to do good for other people and for the dogs, it feels good. It’s nice to know I’m helping train a dog that’s going to change someone’s life.”
The friendly yellow lab is her fifth puppy.
Morton became a volunteer after her freshman year on another campus, where one of her professors had a service dog in training in class. By the time she transferred to IU Kokomo as a sophomore, she was ready to attend with a puppy in tow.
Staff in the campus accessibility center helped smooth her transition to bringing puppies to campus with her, and as a trained service dog volunteer she’s legally allowed to have the pups wherever she goes.
It’s been a positive response from faculty, staff, and students, Morton said, adding that she benefits from her service too.
“I’m not a very social person, and because I have a puppy with me people come up to me all the time to ask questions,” she said. “They talk to me about their dogs and ask about ICAN. It gets me out of my comfort zone.”
Ray has been a good student this semester, earning regular treats for being quiet while Morton is in class. She noted that some of her past pups have barked or whined in class occasionally, but everyone has been good about ignoring it. One professor even quipped that “the dog agrees,” in response.
He’s old enough now that he doesn’t sleep all the way through class, but he generally will chew on a toy quietly.
“He just looks around and listens, and takes it all in,” she said.
In just a few weeks, it will be time for Ray to move on to the next phase of his training, and eventually get a new name chosen by his sponsor. That part never gets any easier.
“I cry like a baby every time,” she said. “Even with the older dogs, when I only have them a few weeks, it’s hard. And when I’ve had puppies for two months, I get emotional every time.
“We’re allowed to get the puppies back once because we raised them,” she said, but program leaders want them to experience different situations. Living with a family that includes children, or on a farm to learn how to be around livestock, prepares them for wherever their final placement may be.
Morton hopes to have her next canine companion soon after Ray takes his next step.
“I almost don’t know how to come to campus without a dog,” she said.