Oh, the Places You’ll Sniff!
Guide dogs undergo months of training before they’re ready to assist visually impaired handlers. For the first student-sponsored pup at UMD, class is in session.By Annie Dankelson | Photos by Stephanie S. Cordle; puppy photo courtesy of the Guide Dog Foundation
While the students around him take notes, a 30-pound black bundle of fur beneath a desk in LeFrak Hall is prepping for his future, too—although, sprawled and snoozing, he appears to be taking a more relaxed approach to his studies.
Sporting a bright yellow vest and an insatiable appetite for kibble, he’s a member of the University of Maryland’s chapter of the Guide Dog Foundation, which trains dogs and provides them free of charge to assist visually impaired people. UMD’s group, called Terps Raising Pups, has developed dozens of dogs over the past three years, but this particular pooch holds a special distinction.
After ramping up its fundraising last spring, Maryland’s chapter amassed the $6,000 needed for the first Terp-sponsored, Terp-named puppy. Members took the direct route when naming him, settling on “Terp.”
The black Lab arrived on campus at 11 weeks old in August, trotting at the heels of his raiser, Kim Harrity ’20, as she attends class, runs errands and heads to the gym. In short, anywhere she goes, he goes, so he can get accustomed to a variety of environments.
“We really just want them to be really calm in a lot of situations—and confident,” says Harrity, one of Terps Raising Pups’ area coordinators.
The club partners with UMD’s Accessibility and Disability Service and gives professors a heads-up that an extra four-legged pupil will join them in the lecture hall. Besides getting more than a dog’s fair share of hearing and speech sciences information in Harrity’s senior courses, Terp also attends at least three classes of his own a month. There, he’s mastering the arts of sitting, staying, and keeping calm around his puppy pals, and the all-important skill of relieving himself on command.
“Every dog is different. They all have their different challenges,” says Scott Howarth ’21, fundraising group leader of UMD’s chapter.
After 14 to 18 months of learning to be a very good boy on campus, Terp will graduate to the Guide Dog Foundation headquarters in Long Island, N.Y., to complete 14 weeks of formal training before he heads off with his new handler. Some days are harder than others, but he’s working like a dog.
How do we know what those first few months were like? Take it straight from the puppy’s mouth.
So much is happening at the University of Maryland—People! Squirrels! Skateboards! Food! Sometimes it’s hard to focus on what Kim wants me to do. One thing I’m sure of: My name is Terp. I get yummy kibble every time I respond to that strange word. And everyone here loves me! People yell, “Go Terps!” all the time.
I’ve gotten really good at napping through Kim’s classes, but now I’m going to my own puppy class and I have to pay attention. I’m the smallest one here, and the older dogs are all circled around a Kim-like person telling us how to be calm and listen to our humans—hey, what’s that smell? I better check out those backpacks.
Kim put what she called a “gentle leader” on my snout, which makes it harder to pull on my leash. It itches, but that should be no match for a nice roll in the grass!
My paws have been busy getting used to all kinds of strange surfaces on campus. I walk over grates, bricks, stairs, even construction zones, which sometimes sound scary. Kim hardly has to carry me anywhere anymore—except sometimes out of class, so I don’t have an accident.
Kim says we can’t let everyone come up and pet us because we have a job to do. Sometimes, at puppy class, our humans even run up to us with the squeakiest, highest-pitched voices I’ve ever heard so we can practice ignoring them. I’m not a pro yet, but I’m getting there.
Some mornings, before we go to class, Kim takes me to a strange room with people lifting heavy objects or somehow running really fast without going anywhere. She straps me to a run-nowhere machine, which makes beeping noises before she starts jogging. I don’t mind, though. I just gnaw on my chew toy before I drift off.
Kim has been staring at her glowing clicky toy, called a laptop computer, a lot lately and keeps mentioning something called “midterms,” so while she works today, I’m hanging out with another human, Annemarie Gray ’22. Sometimes Kim takes me to the library with her, but other times she needs a break—I guess I can be a handful!
Today I practiced staying calm at a little outdoor market with apples, pumpkins, veggies, soap and all sorts of interesting smells. My sister Hudson was there too. Even though we’re from the same litter, I’ve been growing so fast that I’m already bigger than she is!
I love snoozing in the car with Kim, but this morning we rode in a super-big car called a bus with lots of other people. We rode over a few bumps, but I’m learning to adapt to traveling lots of different ways. So I just curled up under Kim’s seat and enjoyed the ride.
I’m not the littlest guy in puppy class anymore! Now when Kim drops kibble on the ground, I can resist and just leave it there. I’m also good at ignoring toys and other distractions when it’s time to focus. Kim says I’ve come a long way, but there’s still lots of work to do before I meet my handler one day. I’m ready for it—especially if the treats keep coming. TERP
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This is wonderful! Keep up the great work. Proud of you and our great University. Joe Trezza, Class of 1971
I'm surprised to learn Terp does not have an Instagram and it makes me sad.
He actually does have an Instagram account! You can follow him @terptheguidedog. His daily life is adorable and fascinating to learn about!
What a wonderful program. Didn't know it has been in existence for awhile. Loved Terps diary. He is a pretty good writer.