Ciera Hansen (’23) first got involved with service dogs as a high school sophomore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When her community-service club came across Deafinitely Dogs!, she started a relationship with the organization that has carried over to her arrival at Loras College.
“I didn’t like the idea of going off to college and not being able to stay involved,” Hansen said. “When I was being interviewed for the Civic Leaders Program and met (program advisors) Jake Kurczek and Maggie Baker, I brought up my work with Deafinitely Dogs! and the idea of being able to incorporate dogs into my college experience. Both were excited and intrigued by the idea.”
The result is DuDawgs, a service and facility dog training club. Student club members assist in puppy raising, fundraising and public education about the rights and responsibilities of service dogs.
Deafinitely Dogs! is a community partner for DuDawgs and provides all dog training and support. Sherry Stein Ross, one of the co-owners, comes to campus once a month to help with tabling and talking to students about the club and fundraising.
“Throughout the years I have been involved, I have had the opportunity to see just how much a dog can change a person’s life,” Hansen said. “One of Deafinitely Dogs! original placements was with a veteran. His post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was so bad that he couldn’t go anywhere by himself. He brought his wife to job interviews, the store and meetings. He spent his time in his basement, away from his family, in fear of having a violent outburst. After receiving his dog, Tucker, he now plays with his kids, has a job, and even went on a two-week training seminar out of state just him and his dog. Without the support Tucker provides him, he would not be the person he is today.”
Hansen said the club has received a great deal of support from the campus community and that students can participate in various ways.
“Anyone interested can be directly involved with the training of the dogs or remain more behind the scenes and help with fundraising, advertising, or advocacy. My hope for the club is not only to produce highly trained service dogs but also to educate the general public about the dogs, what they do and what their rights are, as well as advocate for those struggling with PTSD and other disabilities.”
The long-range plan for DuDawgs was to bring a dog onto campus at some point to live and train, but it became a reality when Hansen became a resident assistant. After some coordination between campus housing and Deafinitely Dogs!, Ciera returned to camps this year with Toksi, a three-year-old yellow Labrador.
“Right now, Toksi is just getting everyone use to seeing dogs on campus and how to appropriately react when seeing a working dog,” Hansen explained. “She is also showing that DuDawgs will be an active part of campus life.”
According to Hansen, Toksi has been well-received in her new residence.
“All of my professors have been very welcoming to her in their classes. Other faculty members have loved seeing her around campus. Outside of Loras, the response was better than I anticipated. Dubuque is not the most dog-friendly town, but we have had very few incidents so far.”