Nearly 14 months ago, Therapeutic Recreation Senior, Kayla Breeden embarked on a selfless journey of training a therapy dog named Zachary. Kayla is a member of STEP@LU, a Service-Dog training and education program at Longwood University. STEP@LU educates members of the Longwood community and the public about the benefits of service dogs and the etiquette associated with being in the presence of a service dog. Additionally, the group aims to teach their members about disability awareness and how to care for and train puppies.
As a member of STEP@LU, Kayla applied for a puppy through Canine Companions, a non-profit organization that breeds and trains service dogs. By her junior year, she became the main caregiver to a nine-week old yellow Labrador retriever puppy named Zachary. Over the past 14 months, Kayla has spent countless hours raising and training Zachary to master his basic commands. On many occasions, Kayla would bring Zachary to class so he could practice staying down by her feet. As a benefit, the Therapeutic Recreation faculty and students benefited from young Zachary's visits and were able to get in some cuddle time with him.
Last summer, Kayla interned at the VA Hospital in Washington, DC. During her internship, she used her knowledge to educate the veterans about the benefits of owning a service dog. Kayla feels that working with service dogs is a natural fit for her work in the field of Therapeutic Recreation. When Kayla graduates and becomes a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, she hopes to own and train a facility dog.
Last week, Kayla traveled to New York with Zachary to celebrate his first graduation. Their hard work has paid off because Zachary is eligible to move on to his advanced training as a service dog for the next six to nine months. While Kayla has passed Zachary on to his new trainer, she will continue to receive monthly updates and photos of Zachary. Kayla, we are proud of the citizen leader you have become!