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Who let the dogs in?

Viking Pups find new campus home

April  09, 2013

Viking Pups, Augustana’s hugely popular student-run therapy dog training club, continues its series of “firsts” for the campus.

Since dogs are not permitted to live in the college’s residence halls, Viking Pups trainees had to be housed off campus at the end of the day and returned each morning. That meant only seniors in off-campus housing were able to foster a dog. Sophomore Mary Kiolbasa, who founded Viking Pups, is enrolled in a special 3-2 program and will attend another college after her junior year. She would not have a chance to foster a dog for the club she founded.

In response, President Steve Bahls and Dean of Students Dr. Evelyn Campbell proposed a Viking Pups TLA (Transitional Living Area for juniors), a house near campus where the dogs and their handlers live together and continue training after hours. The recommendation won approval, and Augustana’s first Viking Pups TLA opened its doors. Now the dogs are constantly immersed in a training lifestyle surrounded by those who train them, including Kiolbasa.

“From tug ropes tied on the fridge for them to open to a dog cabinet in the kitchen—filled with everything from grooming supplies, training treats and all the training items—the house is as much theirs as it is ours,” said Kiolbasa, a psychology major.

Pups need summer place

Chicagoland alumni: Do you have a large warehouse or area where Augustana students from the Chicago suburbs can meet and bring their Viking Pups dogs for training during the summer? Please email Viking Pups President Mary Kiolbasa.

Since Viking Pups was officially recognized as a student group in 2012, students have trained and placed three dogs. One of the dogs, Tucker, now works with the interventionist at Jefferson Elementary School in Clinton, Iowa, to help children with emotional, social and behavioral problems.

Currently, Kiolbasa and her team are training four dogs on campus for different needs:

  • The youngest is Zorn, a six-month-old fox red labrador. Zorn will be a mobility dog for a young girl so he is learning to turn on and off lights, tug open the fridge, tug off clothes, open and close doors, brace for stability and much more. Zorn will be placed when he is around two years old.
  • Oden, a one-year-old golden retriever, most likely will be placed with someone who needs a full mobility dog, as he can open doors, turn on and off lights, retrieve objects and more.
  • Bobo, a two-year-old yellow labrador, most likely will be placed with a young girl with Williams Syndrome. He will help by being tethered to her, bracing for her for stability and performing other tasks to help the girl with her social concerns and anxiety issues.
  • The oldest of the bunch is Cami, a three-year-old yellow labrador. She likely will go to a counseling facility that works with Department of Children and Family Services cases. She is being trained to go to schools and police departments for those cases, and even to testify with the children, including learning tasks for emotional comfort and easing anxiety.

“There is a core group of students who are very committed to the goals of the club and who have devoted a great deal of time and energy to making it a success,” said Dr. Jayne Rose, one of the club’s faculty advisors. “They have partnered with people in the community—most notably trainer Hilary Plog—who are able to mentor them in becoming effective trainers.”

Dr. Rose says most of the students involved with Vikings Pups are interested in a related career. “They are committed to vocations where they will be helping people, such as education, psychology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, communication sciences and disorders, but they also absolutely love the dogs,” she said.

Besides Dr. Rose, fellow psychology faculty member Dr. Shara Stough is an advisor for Viking Pups. Other faculty and staff who have helped foster dogs in the past year include Dr. Eric Stewart, Dr. Bob Tallitsch, Dr. Joni Mack, and Larry and April Peterson.

The club credits the non-profit Quad Cities Canine Assistance Network, Inc. (QC CAN) for much of its success. Hilary Plog, the QC CAN head trainer, taught the founding members, and also teaches all the new handlers. QC CAN insures the dogs and handlers, and provides food, treats, grooming supplies and all training equipment such as collars and vests. They also supplied the fosters to house the dogs after a long day of classes at Augustana—before the TLA was established.

Iron Hill Retrievers in the Quad-Cities area provides the dogs for Kiolbasa’s group to train.

“Everyone on campus have been so great with the dogs…most faculty give permission to bring them to classes, and some faculty even seek us out and love having more than one dog at a time!” Kiolbasa said.