For the first time at University of Richmond, two students are training guide dogs while living on campus.
Seniors Claire Goelst and Chris Silvey are members of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit guide dog school with chapters along the East Coast. Silvey started the club at Richmond through the city of Richmond’s GEB chapter. He sought out an opportunity to become involved with GEB in college because he had helped a friend raise a dog in high school, he said.
During Silvey’s freshman year, chemistry professor Carol Parish became a GEB dog raiser. Parish and Silvey have since been working toward a goal of having students raise dogs on campus.
“We asked all the students to visualize what it would be like to have a puppy with them all day, and two said, ‘I think I can do that,’” Parish said.
Silvey said he thought this was a great year to put this plan into action because the Richmond community had “gotten acclimated to service dogs on campus” last year. “It probably had something to do with Winston,” the service dog who assists senior Alexis Achey, he said.
Goelst and Silvey have both given positive reports of raising guide dogs while living in the University Forest Apartments, but they said they have different approaches to the task.
Goelst is training Alden, a yellow Labrador retriever born in April. She does not yet take Alden to class with her because “he’s too little for that,” she said. She said she expected Alden to be ready in one or two months.
Goelst’s three apartmentmates went through the GEB program last year to become certified as well, she said. Her roommate, senior Sarah May, is a co-raiser of Alden. Goelst said she appreciated having so much help with Alden in their living space.
“We went in with this sort of family mentality,” Goelst said. “We love [Alden] to bits.”
Goelst said she had emailed her professors in anticipation of later bringing Alden to class with her. She said they responded enthusiastically. “We received an overwhelming response of support for the program,” she said.
Silvey’s dog is a 6-month-old yellow Lab named Quincy. His apartmentmates are not certified raisers, “but Quincy’s so relaxed that it doesn’t make a difference,” Silvey said.
Silvey said he was able to take Quincy to class, but the dog received a lot of attention and seemed to distract other students at times. “People like to say ‘hi’ and pet the dogs, but they know they need to ask first,” Silvey said.
Silvey said he hoped the program would expand after he graduates. “At minimum, I hope we’d have three dogs next year,” he said. This would require cooperation between GEB and the offices of Housing and Student Development.
Joan Lachowski, director of undergraduate student housing, said that two dogs were the current maximum for the Richmond campus, although that number could increase with time. She said that this was the decision of Steve Bisese, vice president for student development.
“We have to be careful,” Lachowski said. “Because everybody would love to have a dog.”
Lachowski said that Goelst and Silvey had signed an agreement with Housing that outlined requirements for cleanup, veterinary care and guide dog identification.
She also said that these students had gone through the housing lottery process as any other student would have. She was unsure whether they would have been allowed to have dogs in residence buildings other than the UFA.
“Our feeling is that it’s not good to have a dog in a small room,” Lachowski said. She said she was also concerned about dorms because there would be increased contact between dogs and students with allergies.
Goelst, like Silvey, said she hoped more students would join GEB in the coming years. “Our hope is that freshmen can go through this program, interact with dogs, and when they’re in the apartments themselves, they’d want to be raisers,” she said.
Contact staff writer Catherine Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org