Top Dog

Dog House puppies on the lawn

by Lauren Davidson

The Idea Fund has empowered students to bring much to the Dickinson community — a mobile coffee cart, a bike-building and repair shop, an expansion of the biodiesel program, to name a few. And now, it’s bringing puppies. That’s right—puppies. And those puppies need a house—to be more precise, the Dickinson Dog House.

The idea formed when Lauren Holtz ’15 met Sam Silvershein ’14, who had worked with North Star Foundation, a nonprofit organization that breeds golden retrievers to be trained and placed with kids with autism, emotional / social disorders or major medical conditions. With six years of dog training under her belt, Holtz was eager to bring this important service to Dickinson.

Along with Carley Zarzeka ’15, Holtz and Silvershein collaborated with Idea Fund project consultants to craft a vision and direction for the project. Last spring, they were approved for a pre-pilot program, which brought North Star golden retriever Dino to campus for one month to complete his training following guidelines provided by North Star. The students exchanged e-mails with Christopher, a boy with high-functioning autism who was eagerly awaiting the first four-legged member of his support team.

“It was nice to know that this is the person who we’re helping,” Holtz says. “This is the person whose life we’re changing.

“We realized that to maximize the potential of this, we needed a physical space to raise the puppies,” she continues, explaining that Dino had thrived in an off-campus, college-owned house on North Street, but the trainers had to come and go at all hours of the day and night. “So that’s when SHOP stepped in.”

Student Handiwork for Organized Projects (SHOP) is another Idea Fund initiative that brings together students, faculty and staff to participate in a “skillshare” program. This summer, SHOP worked with facilities-management staff to build a bamboo fence for the College Farm, make improvements to the Idea Fund office and renovate that North Street house to serve as the official Dog House space.

This multifaceted program is now a community-service initiative and is co-advised by Amanda Hanson, program coordinator for community service; Heather Champion ’97, regional development officer; and Ken Shultes ’89, associate vice president for campus operations.

“I think it’s a testament to how dynamic this project is that there are so many elements needed to make it work,” says Holtz. “They always say it takes a village, and it kind of does.”

And on Sept. 1, the work of that village paid off. Loki and Regis arrived on campus and were welcomed into their new home with their four new roommates: Holtz, Zarzeka, Eller Mallchok ’15 and Justin McCarty ’15. The dogs and the trainers will work, learn and grow together throughout the semester, after which the pups will be placed with two well-deserving families.

“We really want to focus on the social sustainability aspect of this,” says Holtz. “Oftentimes people think sustainability means reusing a water bottle, but really sustainability means it’s something that can be continued, can last, can grow and can foster new ideas and new ways of looking at things. When we say ‘social sustainability,’ we want this to become an integrated part of Dickinson and what it means to be here and part of this community.”

Watch a video of the Dog House creators Lauren Holtz '15 and Carley Zarzeka '15 working with future service puppies Loki and Regis and sharing more of their story.

Published Oct. 28, 2013