Paws and reflect

Katie Ribbens–Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Katie Ribbens

When this article is published, Sierra, my service dog in training, and I will be one week away from graduation. I will be completing my time at Dordt University, and Sierra will be completing her training with me. On May 14, I will drop her off at her nonprofit, Partners for Patriots, to be matched with her veteran and complete her service dog training. I always knew this would be the hardest part of raising her for a year, but her purpose is to change a veteran’s life.

I enjoyed every moment of raising her, and she helped me grow in new ways during my time at Dordt. We never encountered a dull moment. We paved the way for future students to help veterans through raising dogs on campus. A college campus represented the perfect place for training a service dog. 

Now, I hand over the baton to the next round of students raising dogs on campus. 

As you, the student body, welcomes a new generation of dogs to campus, make their jobs and their handler’s jobs easier by ignoring them completely, even if this means not looking at the them. These dogs are here to learn, same as you. While you learn how to prepare for your future career, they are learning how to save their veteran’s life. 

Next year, two students will train service dogs on campus. I am thrilled to see the realized goal of a long-lasting relationship with Partners for Patriots. I pray it continues to be a positive experience for everyone on campus.

Christine Turek, a sophomore, will raise Sierra’s half-brother, adding another Bernedoodle to campus. Turek is a medical lab science major and joined the Assistance Animal Club in 2021. When a veteran spoke at a club event about how a service dog changed his life, Turek realized dogs could reach people in ways others could not.

Photo Credit: Katie Ribbens

“They definitely have a huge impact,” Turek said. “Even more than what we can really see.” 

Turek is excited to take on additional responsibility next year in the form of four furry paws and a tail: 

“I feel like I’m definitely going to be pushed out of my comfort zone a little bit.” 

Turek asks students on campus remain calm whenever her dog is vested and encourages them to visit the dog when he is off duty.

“There’s a time and a place, because they are training for a reason,” Turek said. “It’s not just to have a pet.”

If students are interested in raising a dog on campus, Turek encourages them to seek her out. 

Hope Weyrick, a junior, recently joined the club and decided to raise a puppy, given her appreciation for their service to veterans. Weyrick misses her dogs whenever she leaves them at home, so she is excited to have a dog go everywhere with her on campus. 

“It’s a different way of helping people through something that I’ve never thought about before,” Weyrick said.

Weyrick grew up with dogs and started training her own dog when she turned ten. For so long, she viewed her dog as her best friend. Now, she will experience a very different relationship with the dog she trains next year. 

“This dog probably can do something good for me and keep me getting out of bed in the morning,” Weyrick said. “Then at the end when I’m ready to move on because I can’t commit to having a dog right now, then that dog can go on and help somebody else.”

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