The Puppy Raisers of UD (PROUD) and Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) are registered student organizations at the university that work to raise guide dogs. PROUD raises puppies for The Seeing Eye guide dog school, and CCI raises puppies to be assistance dogs for people with physical disabilities.
Socialization is an important aspect of training the dogs, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been difficult to get them outside and around other people, as would be typical in a “normal” semester.
PROUD volunteers are matched with a puppy when they are around seven weeks old, with the typical age being eight weeks old for the CCI. The puppies in PROUD are kept until they are 13 to 15 months old, while CCI puppies stay with the organization until they are 18 to 22 months old. Some dogs stay on the university campus, and others get to live with the students in their homes.
Due to the pandemic, both clubs have been running virtually. Typically meetings will go over certain commands with the dogs. However, these meetings are not as exciting on Zoom as they would be in person.
“During our virtual meetings, it’s kind of hard because a big draw to our club is the in-person interaction with the dogs,” Grace DeRosa, president of PROUD, said.
Lauren Zablo, the president of CCI, agreed with DeRosa’s sentiment that COVID-19 has complicated things, and that they are trying to find ways to have club members interact with the puppies during meetings.
“Currently, at our general meetings, we used to have people be able to interact with the dogs,” Zablo said. “We can’t do that right now … we’re trying to figure out ways to have our members be able to work with the dogs, we’re still trying to figure out the logistics of that right now.”
Despite the pandemic and virtual meetings, this semester, both clubs have received a significant amount of new members ready to participate in the program. PROUD has around 30 to 40 new members and CCI has received around 15.
Meanwhile, instilled club members have been doing their best to get their dogs outside and interacting with others in spite of the pandemic. PROUD President Grace DeRosa and other puppy raisers take their dogs to in-person classes; some other places include the mall and areas located around campus.
As restrictions on the RSOs start to loosen up, both PROUD and CCI have plans for small, in-person meetings that still follow COVID-19 protocols.
“Now that we’re going to shoot for outside, and the weather’s warmer; that’s also just a safe environment that the Seeing Eye prefers us to be outdoors,” DeRosa said. “We will be hopefully starting that within the next two weeks.”