If you’ve been on campus any time this semester, you’ve probably seen Hofstra’s latest cutest couple: graduate student Juliana Brisco and her new assistance dog.
Maybe you’ve seen Brisco and her hard working pupper walking through the student center and had to mentally restrain yourself from petting him as proper service dog etiquette or you’ve watched him sit quietly and attentively under Brisco’s chair in class. If so, I dare you to name a more iconic duo.
Their friendship started less than a year ago, when Canine Companions for Independence – a national non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs for children, adults and disabled veterans – officially matched Brisco with Rowdy, a two-year-old Labrador and Golden Retriever mix who has been trained to respond to over 40 commands.
“He’ll pick up objects off the floor. I have a lot of balance issues when I’m walking so if I fall I can use his back to get up. He can also tug open doors or he might help me do my laundry with me and tug over a basket or something. He can push the handicap plates for doors,” Brisco said.
Rowdy, like all Canine Companion dogs, was bred in Santa Rosa, California. Once he reached eight weeks old, Rowdy went to volunteers who raise the puppies. Anyone around the U.S. can volunteer, from families to schools. Puppies are trained with the basic commands such as sit or stay for about a year before they go to advanced training – where they learn special skills, which acts as a “puppy college.”
“Rowdy was actually raised at the University of Delaware. They had a program and as puppy raisers you raise them there. I’m trying to get it started here,” Brisco said.
After Rowdy trained fully for 2 years he went through team training where he met Brisco. Team training is a two-week process where owners and dogs find their perfect match.
“They pair you based on your personality and your lifestyle … with me, I wanted a dog that would help me be more active but also wouldn’t mind sitting on the couch with me for a while. He always wants to please but he also doesn’t mind chilling once in a while. He likes to work, he likes to go places but he also doesn’t mind just watching a movie with me or something.”
When that jacket comes off, Rowdy is a regular dog, jumping through snow and chasing toys or cuddling up on the couch. But when Rowdy is working he is focused and serious, which is why service dog etiquette is to ask before you approach or attempt to pet an on-duty dog. It can be distracting, especially to service pets that have to constantly be conscious of their work – such as dogs that alert owners before they are about to have a seizure.
Watching him perform commands, like picking up Brisco’s keys, you can tell how attentive and eager to please he is. He listens, ears perked for his next task. At one point, Brisco was listing orders Rowdy can perform while he lay on the floor below. As she said, “Rowdy help!” he jumped up from the floor and instantly came to her side, putting his head in her lap, brown eyes glowing, waiting to learn how he could help further.
“It’s just nice to have him. He can bark and get help. There were times … when it would snow a lot where I would fall and nobody would be around. I’d have to find a way to get up somehow or wait for someone to come,” Brisco said, referring to her undergraduate years at SUNY Cortland.
“With him it’s really nice because I’m used to being independent and trying to find my own way to do whatever I can on my own. But one day I was leaving for class and I forgot something so I left him by the front door and went back for it and tripped over a backpack. So I was trying to get up and I thought, ‘wait, I’m not alone.’ I called him to help and he came running. So it’s nice to know that he’ll always be there and in a sense that I’m always safe and if I’m ever in trouble I have him.”