Loras service dog

Loras College student Ciera Hansen and service dog Toksi on Wednesday.

A yellow English Labrador is among the newest members of the Loras College campus community this fall.

Toksi, a service dog in training, goes to class with sophomore Ciera Hansen to help her classmates adjust to seeing service animals at the school. That will come in handy as students start to take on an active role in training service dogs on campus.

“A lot of people think that it’s just a pet, (that) you can go up to her and talk to her, pet her,” Hansen said. “Seeing the vest, I think it starts to click with them (that) this isn’t a regular dog.”

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Hansen is the president and founder of DuDawgs, a Loras club through which students raise and train service dogs and spread awareness of the roles the animals play.

Eventually, students will start training dogs on behalf of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, nonprofit Deafinitely Dogs! Their efforts will help the nonprofit serve more people, while helping community members understand the impact that service dogs can have, said Sherry Steine Ross, a co-founder of the organization.

“It’s just an amazing service that (students) can offer to the community,” she said.

Hansen started raising and training service dogs with her mother when Hansen was in high school. During Hansen’s freshman year at Loras, she established DuDawgs to continue her efforts.

This year, students in the group are raising funds to support their efforts to bring dogs to campus. They also are talking to the Loras community about how to act appropriately around service dogs.

Hansen worked with Deafinitely Dogs! to host Toksi at Loras so people can get used to having a service animal on campus. Toksi’s presence also serves to help the wider Dubuque community learn more about service animals, Hansen said.

“A lot of people just love seeing her,” she said. “I’ll walk in a class, and I’ll just see everyone brighten up.”

DuDawgs members plan to bring three or four dogs to campus next year. Each dog will have a student as a head trainer, and other members of the group will help with the process.

Deafinitely Dogs! will provide the students with puppies to live with on campus and will visit with students to give training classes and provide instruction so students have the skills to work with the dogs, Ross said. The animals eventually will be placed as post-traumatic stress disorder dogs, hearing dogs or professional facility dogs.

“It takes two years, but beginning to end, (students) will be part of the process, from the potty training to the placement,” Ross said.

College campuses can serve as valuable training grounds for service dogs because the animals are exposed to diverse environments with people from different cultures and with different abilities.

“They have to be exposed to as many things as possible because it’s all new to them if they haven’t seen it,” Ross said.

The students’ efforts allow Deafinitely Dogs! to train more service animals and, in turn, place them with more people, she said.

While they are raising dogs, DuDawgs members also will assist with efforts such as marketing, fundraising and outreach, said Jake Kurczek, an assistant professor of neuroscience and psychology who serves as DuDawgs’ adviser.

Those efforts, in turn, allow students to significantly impact the life of whoever eventually receives the dogs, Kurczek said.

“I think it’s a good highlight for showing students who are dedicated to taking their learning in the classroom and applying it in the community,” he said.