What started as a college club activity has transformed into something much greater.
Searching for clubs to join as a freshman at the University of Delaware, Jennifer Strube walked up to one particular booth at the activities fair — the Canine Companions for Independence.
After receiving three circles of training , the Voorhees native became a member of the collegiate club, working as a puppy sitter for three years. However, they weren’t just ordinary pets.
“I’ve always really wanted to have the opportunity to work with dogs, and I never got that growing up,” Strube said. “So, when I came to the University of Delaware, I found out they had a program where you could raise service dogs.”
Canine Companions for Independence is a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships, according to its website.
The program trains four types of assistance dogs — service dogs, hearing dogs, facility dogs and skilled companions.
Now, the marketing major, who also has a minor in advertising and international business, is tackling the role of a raiser. This job entails nurturing a puppy for up to 22 months, teaching the canine nearly 30 commands and preparing it to help those in need.
“I think providing dogs for people who need them can be really, really beneficial, and seeing the impact on people’s lives that they have has been really incredible,” Strube said.
In December, Strube, who is now on the club’s executive board, made a trip to the organization’s Northeast Training Center in Long Island to pick up an 8-week-old yellow labrador retriever named Puppy Dex III or “Dex.”
For the Eastern Regional graduate, it was love at first sight.
“He is very mellow and very, very sweet,” Strube said. “He is super gentle, and he’s got a little bit of funk to him, but for the most part he’s really gentle.”
Dex is now living with Strube at school in Delaware. On top of classes and post-graduation planning, she carves out a chunk of time every day to teach Dex the 30 commands, in hopes he may one day work as an assistance canine.
So far, he is working on up to eight commands, as puppies are taught several basic concepts in their first few months.
Strube says Dex’s determination has been nothing short of impressive.
“So far, it’s been absolutely amazing,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better transition into life with me. He’s really motivated and willing to learn and to please.”
The only challenge Strube faces is making sure Dex is comfortable in new spaces, as she says raisers have to be aware of how puppies react to new situations.
Considering Dex’s socialness and compassion, she thinks Dex has the ability to become any of the four types of assistance dogs, which range from helping children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities to alerting people who are deaf and hard of hearing to important sounds.
While their bonding has been a beautiful experience, graduation is on Strube’s horizon. And while that promises perpetual opportunities, it concurrently means letting go of her puppy.
Most raisers are given almost two years with their trainee canines, but since Strube is moving on from the University of Delaware in June, Dex has plans to live with a couple in Delaware.
Although this inevitable separation will unfold at the end of the semester, Strube knows Dex has more people to nurture aside from herself.
“You have to come into it with a bigger picture in mind,” she said. “There is someone out there who needs the puppies a lot more than you do. Even if you’re getting attached, you have to remind yourself he’s going to help someone in a way.”