- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Wherever University of Central Florida student Morgan Bell goes, a 4-month-old golden-retriever Lab mix named Robin tags along, whether the puppy is snoring in statistics class or sprinting around her dorm room.

For Bell, a 19-year-old sophomore from Port St. Lucie, raising Robin on campus is a unique opportunity that started this fall through Canine Companions for Independence, which trains assistance dogs.

“It was love at first sight,” Bell said.

Someday, Robin could end up pulling soda cans from the refrigerator or turning on a light switch with her nose. Her future owner might be person in a wheelchair or a nursing-home resident.

UCF is the first public university in Florida to allow Canine Companion dogs in training to live in dorms, school officials say. LeAnn Siefferman, Canine Companion’s puppy-program manager, also is in talks with the University of Miami and Stetson University to start similar efforts.



Siefferman noted that college students are full of energy and have flexible schedules. They like getting involved in the community. Why couldn’t they help raise the puppies for 18 months on their journey to becoming assistance dogs?

The program has won support from UCF officials, including President John Hitt, who got his own chance to pet Robin on campus on Sept. 16.

University housing officials made sure Bell’s three other roommates weren’t allergic and didn’t mind sharing their apartment-style dorm with a bundle of fur.

Bell notified her professors to make sure it was OK if Robin came along, too. The dog is welcome, except in lab classes. Though one time when she dozed in statistics class, she did snore loud enough to catch the teacher’s attention.

It seems like every five steps somebody stops Bell to see her dog on campus.

“It’s really cute,” said Judy Yang, 18, a UCF student who lives one floor up in the same building. “I love animals.”

It’s also a great way to meet men, although Bell has a boyfriend.

Robin’s crate is under Bell’s loft-style bed in her beach-themed room. The dog’s polka-dotted bed rests in the corner of the living room.

Outside the brick dormitories, there’s a courtyard for Robin to use as her bathroom. Miraculously, she doesn’t eat shoes.

“She’s really good,” said Bell’s roommate, Johnna Hauck, who noticed more of her friends seem to be calling lately for an excuse to visit. “She’s a cuddle bug.”

At UCF, Siefferman hopes to create a student organization and recruit more students such as Bell.

“I want to see this program grow,” added Kait McConomy, the UCF housing coordinator where Bell lives.

The program is modeled after one at Tulane University in New Orleans, where through a student club, dogs also live on campus.

On Sept. 16, Bell showed off her puppy around her dorm.

“Owww! That was my finger!” she said, feeding the dog a treat in a voice that sounded like a kindergarten teacher’s, changing quickly from stern to sweet.

Robin is growing, more than doubling in size since Bell took her in. Bell estimated she spends about $40 every six weeks on dog food.

The college student knows this love wouldn’t last forever. She will have to say goodbye to Robin in November 2016 so the dog can receive more-advanced training.

“She’s given me a lot of love,” Bell said. “I want her to give that to somebody else.”

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

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