Nationwide service dog organization overcomes ‘ruff’ start, makes mark on UT campus

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Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Pudget’s wagging tail and fluffy coat ensure that all eyes are on him as he and his trainer, Krista Polansky, walk across campus. As students flock toward the duo, they ask to pet him. With a smile and a nod, Polansky begins to describe Pudget’s purpose as the first service dog in training to be raised on campus. Before they scurry off to class, she explains how they too can be puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence.

Canine Companions for Independence is an organization that, with the help of volunteers, sponsors and donors, places trained assistance dogs with those who need them, free of charge. Based in California, the organization opened a facility in Dallas in 2015.

“This facility in Texas serves the entire state,” Courtney Craig, CCI public relations and marketing coordinator, said. “Our group of volunteers and our graduates have really grown in the Austin area. We have some great connections with the University of Texas.”

Polansky, a biomedical engineering senior, volunteered for CCI in the past, and after six months of talking with Student Services for Disabilities, was granted permission to continue her work and raise her first puppy for CCI in Kinsolving.

“I was the first one to live in the dorm on campus with a dog,” Polansky said. “The next semester there was a girl who lived here who was raising one for guide dogs for the blind. It was cool to see how quickly that paid off.”

Pudget will live with Polansky for a year and a half before moving on to advance training and, if he is determined to be fit, he will be matched with someone in need.

“Only about half of the dogs that are raised actually go on to be an assistance dog,” Polansky said. “It’s really difficult work and some dogs — that’s not what they want to do with their life and you wanna listen to that.”

After raising 12 puppies, Maeve Cooney, Department of Chemical Engineering senior administrative associate, said the learning process varies with each puppy. She plans to continue raising puppies well into her seventies, and said seeing the dogs graduate and change people’s lives makes the difficult process well worth it.

“The difference that the dogs make in people’s lives is tremendous,” Cooney said. “The graduations really make you realize why you’re doing this thing.”

Another motivator for both Polansky and Cooney is the opportunity that the dogs provide to educate others on the program and service dog etiquette. From there, Cooney said, “The ripple effects are huge.”

“It makes you realize how inaccessible the world is,” Cooney said. “Even accessible places are not actually necessarily all that accessible.”

Polansky said it made her more cognizant of how her ability can be used to advocate for others. Despite a busy schedule, she would recommend looking into volunteering with CCI because of the many opportunities you can give and get from the program.

“(Volunteering’s) been beneficial: Stress levels are down, everything is looking better, brighter, time management’s the best it’s ever been,” Polansky said. “There’s never going to be another time in your life to have this kind of opportunity to do it. Take the leap, see what you can do.”