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A journey from the Humane Society to Veterinary School

March 31, 2016 Tags: School of Arts and Letters , School of Sciences

Studds_PsychDogs_InText1Graduating with the class of 2015 were two unordinary “students:” Maizie and JoJo.

These “students” came to Saint Francis University from the Central PA Humane Society where they had been given up by previous owners. As part of a psychology course on animal behavior, a group of students guided by Dr. Stephen Gilmour, now professor emeritus of psychology, applied classroom theory in training these “hard-to-adopt” dogs. The end goal was simple: prepare both dogs to find a loving, forever home.

Work hard, train hard.

Four students—Ann Beliles ‘15, Anna Fielding, Nathan Herdman and Meghan Studds ‘15—worked with the dogs once a week throughout the semester as a part of their Behavioral Psychology course.

Putting theories to practice, students attended class in a formal lab environment where they taught Maizie and JoJo basic obedience skills including proper commands and conduct. Throughout the class, the students were able to learn more about the psychology of learning and how it influences the way dogs are trained, as well as the dogs’ response to the training and proper training techniques. 

Within weeks following their arrival on campus, Maizie and JoJo were learning and practicing leash training, sitting, heeling and more, while sporting their bright orange “in training” vests.

After a few months of intense instruction, Maizie and JoJo had learned a variety of skills and were ready to be adopted.

Their adoption, however, was unlike any other. Not only had the dogs been trained, but they had been loved and understood. Because of this, the foster students of these animals were able to share details about the dogs’ personalities with potential families, which ultimately led to Jo Jo’s adoption.

Companionship defined.

Studds_PsychDogs_InText2Meghan, one of the students from the psychology class, fostered Maizie for the semester. While living together, Maizie and Meghan found companionship in one another, and by the end of the course, Meghan could not part with her new friend. Instead, she adopted her.

“Maizie is the best companion I could have asked for,” explained Meghan. “She is my closest companion, and she is truly a stress reliever. Her silly personality makes me laugh and smile every single day.”

After graduating from Saint Francis in May 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Meghan and Maizie went home to Butler, Pa. for the summer. While Meghan spent most of her summer working at a local veterinary office, Maizie spent most of her time relaxing. When Meghan was not at work, she and Maizie spent time outdoors—one of their favorite things to do together—going for walks, hikes and swims.

As summer came to an end, Meghan and Maizie prepared for their next journey together: moving to Columbus, Ohio to attend veterinary school at Ohio State University.

A journey together.

“I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian at a young age. By the time I started as a student at Saint Francis, I was sure that pursuing veterinary medicine was my passion,” said Meghan.

While at Saint Francis University, Meghan jumped on the opportunity to take the behavioral learning psychology class, knowing it would help her succeed in veterinary school, and she is happy she did. Through this class, she not only gained insight regarding the ways in which animals learn and how training methods must complement that, but she also learned skills which have been beneficial in her veterinary studies. But above all, she met Maizie.

Studds_PsychDogs_InText3As she left Saint Francis University with Maizie by her side, Meghan began her journey at Ohio State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) candidate for the class of 2019.  According to Meghan, Maizie has been a tremendous benefit in her educational endeavors. She has learned to manage her time by caring for Maizie and keeping up with academic commitments. “Maizie has also been a great model to study anatomy,” chuckled Meghan.

“Having a dog while in vet school is a constant reminder of my ultimate goal,” Meghan explained with a smile. “It is easy to get bogged-down in books and lectures, but she reminds me of the purpose of it all. I do not know exactly where I will be or what I will be doing after graduating from veterinary school, but wherever I end up and whatever I decide to do, Maizie will be right by my side.”

Making a difference.

Saint Francis is one of only three universities on the East coast to offer a class and adoption such as this, hoping to give dogs a second chance and a ‘fur’ever home while enhancing the students’ knowledge and understanding through hands-on interactions and experiences.

Maizie and JoJo's journey at Saint Francis was only the beginning of a course that will bring more animals to the University as students. During the Spring 2016, students trained and conditioned three more dogs from the Central PA Humane society and found them loving families and forever homes.  Hopes are that the program will continue to transpire and grow. 

Originally published in the Saint Francis University Magazine, Fall/Winter 2015.