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CAST 50×50: Indy-pendence Service Dogs, Department of Agriculture

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The College of Applied Science and Technology (CAST) at Illinois State University is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This series, CAST 50×50, is designed to highlight 50 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and organizations within CAST that make the college special. These notable people will tell you that every day in CAST is a great day to be a Redbird.

Calling all dog lovers at Illinois State! What’s better than being involved in an RSO that learns about and works with service dogs? #CAST50 is excited to share with you our conversation with Indy-pendence Service Dogs president, Steven Wright.

Tell us about Indy-pendence Service Dogs!

The mission of Indy-pendence Service Dog organization is to educate the student body as well as the community on the training, use, and rights of service dogs. We also provide opportunities for members to train and work with service dogs from initial training through placement with the individuals that have disabilities. In addition, the organization provides the opportunity for the students to socialize with fellow members, faculty, and professional speakers and expand their knowledge of the capabilities and uses for service dogs.

“We are responsible for not only taking care of an animal, but training that animal to better someone else’s life.” – Indy-pendence Service Dog President Steven Wright

Can you provide some history about Indy-pendence Service Dogs?

The organization was founded in 2013 by Marie Koch and Hannah O’Flynn, with the first meetings being held in fall 2013. This year we had our first three dogs graduate from our program, one of which is mobility dog and the other two are facility dogs at elementary schools.

Our organization is named after one of the very first dogs we had in our program, named Indy. Indy passed away at the age of three in March of 2016 due to osteosarcoma. She played a key role in the development of our organization and she meant a lot to many of our students, so we found it fit to rename the club in her honor.

Indy-pendence Service Dogs has a much different dynamic then typical RSOs who meet once a week or once a month. Can you tell us what a day in the life of a member of Indy-pendence Service Dogs is?

Every person in our organization spends a completely different amount of time throughout the day/week doing things for the club. For the most part, general members attend our 1-hour weekly trainings on Wednesdays and events whenever we have them. Members typically stick around for a bit after to ask more questions and get their cuddles with the pups.

Our fosters/student trainers attend two hours of weekly trainings on Tuesday nights in Peoria for Paws Giving Independence (PGI), which is the organization from which we get our service dogs in training. The fosters and student trainers are also responsible for training the dogs throughout the day, every day. It is a 24-hours a day, seven days a week kind of task. These members regularly bring the dogs to classes, grocery stores, and many other public venues in order to progress each dog’s training.

“Our club provides the chance for members to develop professional and interpersonal skills, allows students to help raise awareness about an important topic, and gives them the opportunity to help those in need.” – Indy-pendence Service Dog President Steven Wright

We also have our executive board members, who are each responsible for a wide range of different club-related duties, attend executive board meetings, and aid in running our general meetings. Most of the time, our board members are either fosters or student trainers. As a foster, not only are they responsible for the dog 24/7, but they also have to find times to work with members that want to progress in the program through providing outside training that is not held during regular Wednesday meetings. There is a competencies sheet (checklist of items) required for each member to complete before they can progress to become a trainer or foster. Some of the requirements for fostering are 24 hours (only 12 to become a student trainer) of work at PGI (usually takes about four to six months to complete), passing a public access test, and sitting in on an animal care workshop among other requirements.

What is something unique or special about Indy-pendence Service Dogs?

Essentially, our club has more than just one purpose like many other organizations. It provides the chance for members to develop professional and interpersonal skills, allows students to help raise awareness about an important topic, and gives them the opportunity to help those in need. In addition, we are responsible for not only taking care of an animal, but training that animal to better someone else’s life. That is a huge responsibility and a very stressful task that many other RSOs do not have to consider.

Can you provide a description of your executive board positions and who currently occupies them?

Our executive board consists of 10 positions, and the executive board for the next academic year has already been voted on.

  • President – Steven Wright (current); Hannah Martin (2017-2018)

The president directs the budget, appointments executive position vacancies, leads general and executive board meetings, is the main communicator between our organization and PGI, and oversees all scheduled programs.

  • Vice President – Hannah Martin (current); Bianca Gonzalez (2017-2018)

The vice president keeps record of membership status, vet records, and assists the president as needed. Next year, the vice president will also be in charge of coordinating with the Helping Paws Program, which is a service dog training program in a prison that works with PGI.

  • Training Coordinator – Carley Catherine (current); Anna Harkins (2017-2018)

From left to right: Hannah Martin (incoming president), Marie Koch (founder and first president), Steven Wright (current president).

The training coordinator plans weekly trainings for general meetings, and oversees the training of our members and dogs.

  • Secretary – Julia Henning (current); Kristina Anderson (2017-2018)

The secretary keeps minutes for all meetings, maintains an accurate account of membership attendance, answers emails, and keeps an accurate documentation of the organization’s history.

  • Treasurer – Lauryn Appelbaum (present-2018)

The treasurer keeps record of all financial transactions, creates quarterly budget reports, and helps develop a budget with the president.

  • Fundraising Coordinators – Katie Caranza & Sidney Weth (present through 2017-2018)

The fundraising coordinators plan fundraising events for the organization and keep a detailed record on past events.

  • Outreach Coordinators –  Bianca Gonzalez & Anna Harkins (current); Elaine Hocker & Lexie Garza (2017-2018)

The outreach coordinators plan outreach events at our school and in the surrounding community and keep a detailed record on past events

What does someone considering joining Indy-pendence Service Dogs need to know?

Meeting times and membership dues are established at the beginning of each semester. This information is usually given to members at Festival ISU and Winterfest.

Having a dog, especially a service dog in training, is a lot of work! Our executive board determines which of our students will be fosters based on the development of their training skills and their dedication to our organization.

What you get out of joining organization is based on what you put into it. If you want to just come once a week to train dogs, you can. However, the more involved you are and the more you work to develop your skills as a trainer, the further you can progress in the organization.

Anything else you would like to tell us?

The dogs that we train are handpicked from rescues or are donated to Paws Giving Independence (PGI) from which we become the fosters or trainers. We do not and will not train people’s pets to become service dogs as temperament and breed can play a big role in the success of a service dog. The best part about being able to train service dogs is that through our partner organization, all dogs are placed free of charge! In addition to working with PGI, we will soon start a partnership with the Helping Paws Program. This is a program that takes place in a female correctional facility. These women are paid to train service dogs starting from the time they are pups and up while they are serving. These dogs do not get exposure to real world situations and experiences, therefore, Indy-pendence will take some of the dogs from the Helping Paws Program on weekend furloughs and work on the dogs’ socialization skills and getting them familiar with real-life scenarios. We are so excited to expand our rea ch and aid in the success of service dog placements.