Service dogs in training graduate from VT Puppy University

(WSLS)

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WSLS) – Taking the next step to fulfilling a life dedicated to service, a graduation ceremony marks the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

The first set of service dogs graduated on Thursday from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s “Puppy University” program. The program is a partnership with St. Francis Service Dogs.

Wearing their caps and gowns, the graduates are now prepared for life after college.

Keeping with Virginia Tech’s motto, “that I may serve,” these dogs will dedicate their lives to service.

“To know that he can go and change someone’s life for the better is pretty much the reason why we are involved in this whole thing,” said Nick Corrigan who welcomed puppy Tucker into his home.

WSLS was there from the beginning of the journey, as they were handed off as puppies and even during some of their first training sessions.

Enjoying the full college experience, the three pups Koda, Esme and Tucker had no shortage of caretakers.

“Here we’ve had an entire village raising these puppies,” said Connie Knisely, Puppy Program manager with St. Francis Service Dogs.

Dara Ahrens cared for Esme full time. More than just a service project, she was the first puppy Ahrens ever raised.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Ahrens said.

She said the learning has gone both ways.

“I think she has trained me more than I’ve trained her,” Ahrens said.

Like any parent, watching their pup walk across the stage to receive their diploma is emotional, especially for Dr. Virginia Corrigan who cared for Tucker with her husband Nick for more than a year in their home.

“We are so proud of our service dog Tucker, but we are also sad for him to go. As I mentioned earlier, he is part of our family,” Corrigan said.

Although a bittersweet end to hand Tucker over, Corrigan keeps in mind the difference he will make in someone else’s life.

“I hope that Tucker is able to be somebody’s best friend, but also their partner in life and be able to help them through the good days and the bad just like he has for us,” Corrigan said.

While they celebrated with puppy cake Thursday, their journey in higher education is not over yet.

Now they’ll begin formal training to become a service dog to someone in need.

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