UW-River Falls students train rescue dogs for 2nd chance as service animals

- A new and unique dog service program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls is giving recused canines a second chance by teaching college students how to train them to help people in need. 

For UW-River Falls seniors Bailey Post and Lauren Destiche, a three-year-old mutt named Mel is their baby. The pair is taking part in a brand new program on the UW-River Falls campus, where classroom learning meets hands-on service dog training.

“We always joke we get this proud mom moment every time she learns something new or does something great,” Destiche says.

Mel was rescued near a reservation in South Dakota several months ago. She was a malnourished stray with barely any hair at the time. She came to the program at UW-River Falls through Coco’s Heart Dog Rescue in Hudson, Wis. and the foster home of Melissa Kittel, who helped nurse the canine back to health.

“If Mel can be adopted and be a service dog, you can’t get any better scenario than that,” Mittel said.
Now, the UW-River Falls students are working with Mel 24/7, walking her around campus and offering her treats. The goal is to get her fully trained to eventually work with a household in need.

If all goes well this semester, Mel will then be evaluated for advanced training. If she qualifies, that is when the very specialized work would begin.

Potentially Mel may one day work with an autistic child, a PTSD patient in need of emotional support, someone hard of hearing or a person with limited mobility – a far cry from a dog that otherwise would have been put down.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world. It really is,” Post says. “To being able to say we saved a dog and this dog has become so amazingly successful and help someone else [is] such a great feeling.”

The UW-River Falls program is not funded by the university and will need donations to continue. Rescued animals are filtered out based on age and temperament before service dog training begins.

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