Volunteer Trains Service Dogs on Campus

Posted by: Jean Lloyd - February 22, 2018

A college campus is a great place to socialize future service dogs, especially under the care of a trained and dedicated Delt undergraduate.

When fellow Lafayette students petitioned for school sponsorship of living space where service dogs could live with students who volunteered to be trainers, Pascual Ventura (Lafayette College, 2019) decided to get involved. Through “The Dog House” at Lafayette College, dogs spend a year on campus, before returning to Canine Partners for Life (CPL). Then, they receive additional training before being paired with a person who needs assistance.

Ventura is passionate about volunteering in roles that make a positive impact in the lives of people with medical conditions. When he was eight years old, Ventura was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Over the years he has volunteered for organizations that help facilitate the lives of people with diabetes. He is often among the first to try new technologies, he is a leader at camps dedicated to serving kids with diabetes and he trains service dogs.

To qualify for work with The Dog House on campus, Ventura earned his dog training certification through a week-long course over the summer. “This training enabled me to participate as a dog trainer and assist in giving the vital training to the service dogs during their first year, to prepare them to easily integrate in the lives of people whom they would spend every hour of the day with,” said Ventura. “Since I never had a pet growing up, I was mesmerized by the intelligence of the service dogs, especially their communication skills. Their ability to communicate with the handlers and their receptivity made what I thought would be a very difficult task — trying to get them to listen to me — very straightforward.”

During his first semester as a trainer he worked with three up and coming service dogs; Hugo, Lance and Basie. He worked with them on basic training and some advanced skills, such as instructing them to suppress their senses and ignore irresistible food on the ground.

To get the dogs accustomed to crowded places, he took them everywhere he went. “The dogs accompanied me to classes, the dining hall during rush hour and any other meetings. Although these might sound like trivial teachings, it is essential for a service dog to learn these skills, for these dogs would be accompanying their assigned people to work, the gym, the groceries store and planes—places where other non-service dogs are not allowed. Their sharp behavior and self-restraint will enable partners to live with greater security when it comes to their well-being—the dogs would essentially alert them and assist them before any life-threatening event,” said Ventura.

Members of the Lafayette College community have noticed Ventura’s ability to work with dogs. “Pascual is terrific with the dogs. He loves them and understands their needs as they train to help guide their future owners. He is sharp, thoughtful, mature and bilingual in English and Spanish,” said Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, professor of Spanish and head of the department of foreign languages and literatures at Lafayette College.

There were times when Hugo, Lance and Basie became a bit much to handle, so when his schedule got rocky, Ventura relied on support from chapter brother Greg Shindel (Lafayette College, 2019). “Being able to have the great responsibility of training the dogs while also having the support of one of my fraternity brothers allowed me to keep a consistent commitment balance between my academic obligations and my non academic duties as well,” said Ventura.

As an economics major with a concentration in finance and a minor in Spanish, Ventura’s academic schedule along keeps him busy. Life as a dog trainer though also brings him great joy.

“After an intense day of the rigorous academic curriculum in my economics major, getting home to a dog that is extremely excited to welcome me and completely trusting of my guidance cannot be matched. Although it has been an immense time commitment, the fulfillment that I obtain from helping people live a normal lifestyle, despite their medical conditions, makes my times commitment an investment I am happy to make.”

LehighValley Live shared this video of the service dogs in training.