Over the last five years, STEP@Pitt, a student organization partnered with Canine Companions, has provided students the opportunity to raise future service dogs on campus. Located at the University of Pittsburgh, STEP@Pitt stands for Service Dog Training and Education Program and has nearly 200 members involved at different levels. All individuals play a role in helping train, care for, and socialize the service dogs but puppy raisers are responsible for individually raising the puppy and getting them ready for more intensive service training in the future.
Lindsey Thompson, a grad student at the University of Pittsburgh, has been involved with STEP@Pitt since the beginning and is currently raising her second service dog.
“Being a puppy raiser is awesome – I love having him around. I had a friend in high school whose family raised guide dogs. I was intrigued and wanted to get involved in doing the same to work hands on towards something that would give someone their independence,” Thompson says.
As the business manager for the organization, Thompson plans and executes all fundraising efforts. Volunteer puppy raisers are responsible for all of the costs incurred throughout the 18 months the dog is in their care, including but not limited to vet care, dog food, treats, toys, crates, and monthly preventatives. The cost of raising a puppy can add up, so fundraising is an important way to subsidize expenses.
Most recently, STEP@Pitt partnered with Chipotle to host a restaurant fundraiser, bringing in individuals from all over campus and the community to help support their cause.
“We have partnered with Chipotle several times to host fundraising events in our community and have always experienced great success. Thanks to the help of Chipotle, we have been able to raise money to assist and support the raising of over 20 future service dogs at Pitt!” Thompson says.
STEP@Pitt currently has 11 future service dogs being raised around campus by students who are committed to helping others through their volunteer work. The end of the training process is a bittersweet but rewarding experience handing off the leash to the individual the dog is matched with.
If you’re interested in learning more about Canine Companions and how you can help, check out their website here.
To host your organization’s next fundraiser with Chipotle, apply here.