- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Robin is about to move out of the on-campus dorms at the University of Central Florida where she’s been practicing and preparing for the next stage in her life.

But unlike her fellow roommates, Robin’s next step will be on her four legs.

The Labrador-Golden Retriever mix has been under the care of UCF junior Morgan Bell for the last year.

The national organization Canine Companions for Independence selected Bell to become a puppy trainer.

UCF is the first public university in Florida to allow service dogs-in-training in university housing.

“It’s been really rewarding,” said Bell as she pets Robin on the head.

Robin lives with Bell in her dorm room at UCF’s on-campus Lake Claire housing community.

Bell also brings Robin to class with her.

“All my professors were really awesome about letting my barking dog come to class,” said Bell who is studying statistics and finance at the University.

Because of the success of Bell and Robin’s relationship, a new puppy named Allin was put in the care of two sophomores, Kayla McCauley and Jennifer Markowitz.

“I was maybe hoping to get (a dog) if I moved off campus but never thought I would be living in a dorm with one,” said Kayla McCauley.

Morgan, McCauley and Markowitz all underwent a rigorous selection process and made both time and monetary commitments to raise their puppies for Canine Companions.

“The dog has definitely helped us bond,” said Markowitz. “We sit and talk in front of the TV every night about what Allin did today.”

According to Canine Companions for Independence, aside from learning about puppy care and training, students in the program gain knowledge and experience with learning theory and public speaking skills.

Robin will be graduating in November, leaving behind her human handler.

“People ask me if I’ll miss her and then I burst out in tears,” said Bell.

Robin will move onto a more intense training program where she will learn more commands. Trainers will then evaluate her to determine if she will become a service dog. But it’s not easy.

“We have very strict standards,” said Ashton Roberts, Instructor for the Canine Companions for the Southeast Region.

Only about 50% of the dogs that go through the training actually become someone’s service dog.

The dogs that don’t make it are adopted.

But Bell won’t be alone for long, as she planned to get a new puppy and start training the new canine candidate from scratch.

“The puppies that enter the program are a complete clean slate,” said Roberts.

Roberts says college campuses are great places to train service dogs because there is many distractions to practice with as well as trainers who have time to handle the responsibility.

McCauley and Markowitz, who are both majoring in biology, take Allin to their UCF classes and allow him to walk amid the large student crowds and traffic and become familiar with the world around her.

Bell was so inspired by her puppy-raising experience that she started a club on the UCF campus called the Service Dog Training and Education Program.

Members fundraise for Canine Companions and occasionally watch over the puppies in the program.

One of the biggest challenges according to McCauley is finding balance.

“It’s about managing school and homework and him,” said McCauley.

Overall the students involved say college life with a dog is not too ruff.

Pun intended.

___

Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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