Manchester University
Oak Leaves

October 6, 2018

Dog 2-Stacy

Russ poses by some books.

Photo provided 

Russ Continues Tradition of Service Dogs at Manchester

Noah Tong


It turns out that teenagers and young adults aren’t the only ones who attend Manchester University in preparation for their careers.

Nine months old with jet-black fur, Russ is a half Golden Retriever, quarter Newfoundland, and quarter Labrador service dog-in-training. Lucky students, staff and faculty may catch a glimpse of Russ gliding past them down the halls.

“He lives with me,” said senior Lauren Rodts, the dog’s temporary caretaker. “He’s not always with me, though. On certain days he’s with Stacy Erickson-Pesetski, while other times he’s with Mary Lahman and goes to their classes.”

Rodts trains Russ for a non-profit organization based in Xenia, Ohio, called 4 Paws For Ability. Their mission is to place “high-quality service dogs with children with disabilities and veterans who have lost use of limbs or hearing,” according to their official website.

“Instead of in-house training, this organization focuses on doing socialization training,” Rodts explained. “The first couple weeks of Russ’s life he was trained at a prison.” In this instance, Russ was then transferred and placed under the supervision of Rodts.

Russ spends his days, like any typical student, by attending classes on campus from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. He then goes home to complete the puppy equivalent of homework. “We get a list of commands he’s supposed to know,” Rodts said. “We practice those and then after he gets the commands down we increase the distractions.

“Someone may be running around the room or screaming while I’m giving a command to help him learn,” Rodts continued. “It’s supposed to prepare him for the future.”

Next month Russ will have an evaluation. If he passes, he goes into advanced training. It is likely he’ll either be placed into seizure alert or assistance in search and rescue. To help prepare for this process, Rodts is responsible for taking Russ to monthly obedience classes.

Aside from training and caring for Russ, Rodts is heavily involved in the College of Business Club, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow, and the Academic Integrity Board. She noted that while it can be “stressful” training a dog while balancing her extracurricular activities and classwork, she has no doubt the effort is worth it.

“I love to work with dogs,” Rodts said. “I have two cats and a dog back home, and I’ve always wanted my own dog. Anybody who loves dogs can do this program. You just need to stick to the training and make sure it gets done. It’s very easy to fall off that routine.”

Rodts is careful, however, not to let training the dog get in the way of enjoying Russ’s company. “Anywhere we go he will do a somersault, flip on his back, and roll around,” she said, recounting memories from recent months. “He’s just really funny.”

Despite the abundance of positive experiences, unexpected challenges still arise while raising Russ.

“He really loves greeting new people,” Rodts said. “One time in the library he ran up to a girl afraid of dogs. She got scared so she ran away but he thought they were playing, so he chased her around the entire library!”