Pawsitive Program Lets Teen Train Guide Dog
For those concerned about the self absorption of the average suburban teen, my coworker that works with girls as a volleyball coach confirms that sometimes it's tough working with today'sÂ young people that are sometimes over indulged. But she was happy to share this story of a young woman in their volleyball program, Melissa Petrick, a Junior in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Melissa'sÂ constant companion is Flynn, an attentive, handsome boy that came from a good family, that any mother would approve of. He's so adorable that Melissa's classmates might be a little jealous, especially since the normal school rules of PDA (Public Display of Affection) have been waived in their relationship.
The Perfect Learning Environment
You've probably guessed that Flynn is a dog (as this is a pet-related blog.) He is a beautiful five-month-old yellow Labrador in the perfect learning lab (pardon the pun) for how to be a guide dog. After all, if a dog can learn to navigate the overwhelming and unpredictable halls of high school, he will be cool as a cucumber elsewhere as a service dog.
Although people are encouraged not to distract a working dog, especially one in training, some students can't resist an enthusiastic greeting and pat. But generally, you'll see Flynn sitting patiently under Melissa's desk with his brow furrowed in concentration, as he resists the temptation not to look for food scraps teens are notorious for leaving on the floor. It's quite an accomplishment, and there are high hopes that Flynn will be one of the dogs that completes his education and is placed with a blind or visually impaired individual.
A Competitive Field
The Petrick family works with a California-based organization called Guide Dogs for the Blind. Flynn is the third dog the family has raised for the program. They house and train puppies for about a year until the young dogs are admitted to formal training. Only about 60 percent of enrolled dogs are able graduate to be placed as an official guide dog. (And young people think the human job market is competitive!)
Melissa has high hopes for Flynn, however. You want them to make it through the program, she said. When they graduate, we get to meet the blind people. They're so cool and so thankful. That's such a nice feeling.
Cutting Through Red Tape for a Good Cause
It's also nice to see the school support the program. In an age where educators have concerns with law suits and allergies, animals unfortunately have often been removed from educational programs. But principal Jerry Going didn't hesitate to give permission to let Flynn accompany Melissa to school.
You can say `no' to a lot of things, but then you miss out on some many educational opportunities, he said. What kinds of opportunities are there for high school kids to have that kind of impact on society? The responsibility, the whole idea of paying it forward? I think it's pretty amazing.
Melissa's mom, Tina Petrick, also believes the program is a win-win opportunity. I think volunteering and working for a greater good is an important lesson, she said. I feel it's important for Melissa to do that, and to model it at school.