My STEP Signature Project was composed of three different components. I was a puppy raising intern for 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia, Ohio, become a full-time volunteer training for this organization, and observed physical therapists. This project expanded upon my Health Sciences Major and Disabilities Studies minor that I am working towards at Ohio State. This experience taught me the process of training a service dog, allowed me to understand the impact that service dogs have for individuals with disabilities. Lastly, through observing at physical therapy clinics I could to see where service dogs could benefit the therapy process.
Completing my STEP Signature Project has given me insight into the world around me and into possibility of my future career aspirations. My view of the world has changed in that I have realized that the general public has a lack of education and understanding about service dogs. My assumptions about my career aspirations have positively been changed through the completion of my STEP Signature Project as well.
My view of the world has changed through this STEP Signature Project. Through becoming a full-time volunteer trainer and socializing a service dog in training out in public it has become evident to me that the general public has a lack of knowledge about service dogs, what their roles can be, and general etiquette of how to act around a service dog. While in public, I have been asked what my disability is, if I am blind, and where did I buy my vest for my pet dog. All of these questions stem from a lack of understanding of what questions you are allowed to ask an individual with a service dog, of the multiple tasks a service dog has the potential to perform, and of how crucial service dogs are to their person for their person’s independence.
I spent many training outings educating individuals on each of these topics and now have a passion to educate the public in any setting as much as I can. I gained the knowledge and support of how to go about educating the public and handling all of the interactions through being the 4 Paws puppy raising intern and through the support of the other volunteer trainers in the 4 Paws for Ability community. During my STEP Signature Project, I become a mentor in the 4 Paws for Ability community and have become a support to help other volunteer trainers with their training through giving advice and meeting in person, and also support them in educating the public.
My assumptions about what my future career could look like has also transformed through the completion of my STEP Signature Project. I aspire to be a Physical Therapist and work with children that have disabilities, while training service dogs. This project has given me immense insight in what my future career could look like and I now see that it can be a reality. Through observing a Physical Therapist throughout my project, I was able to observe and ask many therapists where they could see benefits or possible challenges to have a dog in the therapy setting. All the Physical Therapists could see benefits and applications through having a dog in the setting. For children, the dog could be motivation to complete an obstacle course or other activities, petting a dog has sensory applications, and throwing a ball to the dog could work on their IEP goals and gaining arm strength. There are many possibilities for applications and benefits of having a dog in this setting. Possible challenges would be for the dog to be too distracting for therapy to be completed, the child is allergic to dogs, or the child is afraid of dogs. These challenges could be avoided by having a hypoallergenic dog in the setting that is kennel trained so it can easily be removed or added back into the setting depending on the child. Overall, I know that many more discussions will need to happen to make this idea a reality, but from the therapy perspective it is possible.
These changes and transformations are valuable for my life because it has given me a glimpse and insight into what my career aspirations and future life plan could look like. I aspire to be a physical therapist and work with children that have disabilities, while training service dogs. Through this project, I now see that this is possible. I see that there are therapy applications with the dog in the setting. Secondly, having a greater understanding of how individuals with service dogs are treated in public and allowing me to experience the lack of public understanding of service dogs has given me a passion and drive to educate others. All of these changes and transformations are valuable as they give me a drive, passion, and excitement for my future career aspirations and life goals.