A new organization at Mississippi State University aims to educate students on raising furry friends to be a help to someone in need.
Puppies with a Purpose was founded this semester with the intent of teaching students about raising puppies to be guide dogs. The puppies are to be trained in Starkville for the next 14-16 months before being sent to formal harness training.
Maya Harlow, a junior animal and dairy sciences major at MSU, is the founding president of Puppies With A Purpose. She said she has raised future assistance dogs in the past and wants to share the passion with like-minded students. Harlow had planned to start the organization prior to her freshman year.
"I have messages between myself and Maddie Pipkin, my now-roommate and working assistance dog-handler, that were planning this club before we even set foot on MSU's campus," Harlow said. "Now, two years later, it has been realized."
Their current guide dog in-training is Heidi, an adorable black Labrador retriever who is currently 10 weeks old. She is the first club-affiliated puppy and will be instrumental in training student members who eventually want to raise guide puppies. Heidi's training will be crucial in the success of the club.
Harlow discussed the challenge of obtaining a future assistance dog. Thankfully, the club did not have to pay a dime to receive Heidi.
"The process of acquiring a guide dog is long. Many organizations have a waitlist of nearly two years for recipients to receive a dog, from the time their application is accepted to placement with their guide dog," Harlow said.
These fully trained guide dogs are worth approximately $50,000 by the time they are ready to be placed with their handler. However, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind provides their assistance dogs to their recipients completely free of charge. This is made possible through the hard work and support of donors, sponsors and volunteers.
There are various roles students can fill if they want to be involved in in Puppies with a Purpose. General members attend the club's monthly meetings and assist in fundraising and outreach efforts. Puppy Campers "puppy sit" Heidi when the Puppy Raisers are in a lab and other scenarios that are not appropriate for the puppy. Puppy Raisers are the primary caretakers of the puppy and attend monthly training sessions. Harlow and Isabella Payne, the organization's vice president and co-founder, are Heidi's Puppy Raisers.
"Club members receive intensive training and orientation before applying to become a Puppy Camper or Puppy Raiser with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. During club meetings and events, members are taught appropriate interactions with working dogs," Harlow said.
JT Perrigin, a junior animal and dairy sciences major at MSU, currently serves as the organization's treasurer. He said joining the club has given him a passion for service animals while teaching him other valuable life skills.
"Puppies with a Purpose has already taught me so many things about different kinds of service animals," Perrigin said. "I understand more about different disabilities and how to advocate for guide dogs and people with visible and non-visible disabilities."
Grace Sullivan, a sophomore animal dairy sciences major at MSU, is a general member. She says she has many reasons she chose to be involved with Puppies with a Purpose.
"My favorite thing about the club is that we all are given the opportunity to be hands-on in training the future guide dog," Sullivan said. "There are many different ways to get involved and that is what I love the most. The club is very accommodating to everyone."
Puppies with a Purpose meets monthly and is always accepting new members. Check the organization's Instagram (@puppieswithapurpose_msu) for more information on getting involved.