Any Tulane student with a working set of eyes has undoubtedly seen the TUSTEP dogs around campus. Furry, friendly, and a rare commodity for college students that actively miss their pets back home, the dogs are hard to miss. While they brighten our days (especially when we get to pet them), they also serve an important purpose as an impactful CACTUS (Community Action Council of Tulane University Students) organization.
These dogs and their trainers are part of a chapter of a wonderful organization, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). This organization gives its different chapters resources to train dogs in service/partnership for people with disabilities. These dogs go on to help people in various contexts, from helping the blind, to assisting the mentally impaired, to working in different facilities. Each dog is paired with a trainer who takes care of them, typically living in the Decou-Labat (formerly Willow) Townhomes. The trainers do all of this on a volunteer basis (paying for everything except for basic equipment and veterinary bills), and cover everything from potty training to regularly walking and cleaning up after the dogs. 18 months later, when the dogs are properly socialized and ready to move onward, the dogs matriculate to working with a professional trainer before they are hopefully paired with a person to assist.
The TUSTEP trainers have unique experiences with this organization as well. After speaking to trainers, I got to get a bit of insight into what their work entails. When selected to become a trainer, students need to read a preparation manual from CCI, and proceed to spend time with older dogs and their caretakers to see what their work should look like. This last part, in particular, has been described as a unique advantage for TUSTEP trainers that caretakers in other organizations do not get to benefit from.
Caretakers have mentioned that it has been really great to have the community of trainers in the townhomes as well, as they can rely on each other for support and advice. And while one could wonder why these trainers decided to undertake this responsibility for no compensation as busy students, they consistently mention believing in the work they do and feeling a sense of reward from seeing their dogs retain information that could benefit their future partner.
If you’d like to support this incredible organization, keep a lookout for its Wavestarter campaign, which is coming soon to raise money for supplies and food in order to lighten the financial strain on trainers.
Cover Photo: TUSTEP Tulane Instagram