Service Learning and Community Service
- Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.
My step project consisted of rescuing a pit bull mix, her name is Ella, and training her to work as an emotional support therapy dog. The training process includes living with, socializing and bonding with Ella, for at least 6 months to a year, while also teaching her basic commands. After she and I had bonded and she knew her commands reliably, the next step is taking a handlers’ class and then testing and registering as a volunteer therapy team.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.
My view of how animals mentally heal, change and react throughout the rescue process has changed tremendously. As a former volunteer and employee in 2 different animal rescues and a current employee at a veterinary clinic that works with rescue groups and handles rescue cases, I have seen and worked with many different rescue situations. I have seen many successful cases and fun outcomes where dogs and cats are given lives where they can become cozy family pets, can explore the world with their new family and even help other dogs learn to trust again. I also saw a handful of unsuccessful rescues where the dogs and cats are constantly returned to rescues and animals that go from home to home with no stability. Normally when animals are not successful rescues, we often blame the owners for not trying hard enough, but we rarely stop to work with the animals one on one for ourselves.
Throughout this project I have been able to work one on one with a rescue animal with a past we know nothing about. Working with Ella has taught me that even skilled owners and support from vet clinics and groups on campus, sometimes rescue animals need more help and more work than originally thought. Ella has shown me that even in a loving, sturdy home environment some rescue animals need time for a full mental analysis and a lot of one on one training so that the owners and animals can build enough trust to break through any mental barriers the animal might have. I have also learned that it is very important that animals with mental barriers are paired with the right owner/group that the animal can trust, grow and train with for as long as the animal needs the special help. This project has shown me that as hard as it can be to find homes for rescue animals, homing animals is not always the hardest part of rescuing animals.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.
When I started my step project I was very hopeful that the petite pit bull mix who was brought to the clinic where I worked would remain the happy go lucky puppy she seemed to be. Ella was found alone under the porch of an abandoned house early in the morning on January 12, 2017. She was very thin, covered in wounds, scars, fleas and only about have her body had fur. No one in the clinic could understand how such a sweet little dog could have ended up alone and possibly abused. Ella lived in the clinic for 5 months before I could take her home and throughout her time there her demeanor slowly shifted from confident and happy, to a more calm and watchful dog. Originally no one really thought much of this slow shift because she was still a rather approachable dog. As the months continued Ella continued to become more anxious and as I continued to work with the veterinarians to monitor her physical wounds, it was thought that Ella may have lasting mental damage from her previous life or that she could have a mental condition that would have led to her being abandoned in the first place.
Ella and I continued to bond and more of her true personality continued to show. I worked more closely with the two veterinarians at the clinic to explore reasons for her random behavioral changes and increasing anxiety. My relationship with the two veterinarians grew as I asked them questions from a client’s point of view and they lead me in my research in ways to ease Ella’s diagnosed anxiety and hopefully help her enjoy her new life. I found an animal trainer who had experience working with anxious animals and met with her to get some tips and advice on how to expose Ella to new things and people without causing her too much stress and in a positive manner. I learned new ways to bond with Ella and build trust to help ease her anxiety when we had visitors at our house.
I also met with an animal behaviorist to discuss anxiety and other mental issues that affect dogs. We discussed that she actually worked with a lot of rescue groups that unknowingly have dogs with severe anxiety who presented in the same way Ella did. These dogs were often adopted out and then returned to the groups or given to the shelter due to unexplainable aggressive behavior toward house guests, protective behavior of the owners, exhibiting fear on walks or when they hear loud noises and strange voices. These owners would often try calming treats or anxiety medications prescribed by their vets but owners are often not able to put in the one on one time necessary to build trust with these dogs and help adjust them to their new life. Some owners who end up see behaviorist are able to get full assessments of their dogs individual mental states and create plans to build strong relationships with their dogs and help them get the proper treatment and attention base on their individual mental states.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
My step project has helped me realize that rescuing and adopting animals is more than just finding them a home. I’ve learned more about the different aspects of animal anxiety and how it affects the behavior of these animals. As I hope to go to vet school after graduating with my biology degree, learning about how mental imbalances in animals can greatly affect animal behavior in ways that is hard for owners to understand is very useful to me. I hope that my experiences now will help me be able to better explain and guide future clients. I also hope to better understand the rescue, rehabilitation and evaluation process by helping owners of newly adopted and future owners of adopted dogs better understand that each adoption case and adopted dog is special and different, each requiring individualized attention.