Emma van Golen: Puppy Raiser and Senior Editor of Her Campus at The University of Delaware

As a transfer student, everything about UD has been different compared to my former institutions. One thing that stood out to me the most was all of the seeing eye dogs in training around campus. I wanted to learn more about the organization PROUD, or Puppy Raisers of The University of Delaware, and luckily our Senior Editor of Her Campus, Emma van Golen, is a puppy raiser!

Name: Emma van Golen

Year: Sophomore

Major: Marketing

Hometown: Landenberg, PA

HC: What inspired you to become a PROUD member?

EVG: I’ve known about PROUD since I was a freshman in high school. My friend did a presentation on service dog organizations and my dad, who is a professor on campus, ended up mentioning that there was a Seeing Eye puppy raising club on UD’s campus. When I decided to become a student at UD, I knew I had to join. I love dogs and working with dogs so the idea of changing someone’s life and helping them gain independence and confidence was an incredible thing to consider. It’s hard to describe, but I just loved the idea of being able to help someone so completely, while also being able to work so closely with the type of animal I love most.

HC: How did you become a PROUD member?

EVG: Everyone in the club starts off as a puppy sitter, someone who watches the puppies for the raisers. Before becoming a sitter, you must attend two meetings. One of these meetings will be a new member meeting, where you take a puppy quiz, which basically just runs over all of the basic rules and things you may experience while puppy sitting. You must also get your floor certified if you would like to watch puppies in your residence hall. After that, you can begin puppy sitting. If you decide you would like to raise, you can submit a puppy raising application. Before you can get a puppy, you must complete at least 50 hours of puppy sitting, including one overnight and obtain 300 points in your Puppy Hunt, which is when you take pictures of puppies in different situations to show that you are an active member. After that, it is just a waiting game to get a puppy!

HC: What’s it like to bring your dog to classes?

EVG: It’s pretty normal to me now. At first, it’s a bit exciting, because obviously you have a dog where people don’t usually have dogs. After that initial excitement (and they are a nice stress reliever), it really boils down to it being part of their training. Classes are so beneficial to our puppies training, and bringing your puppy just becomes routine, just like walking to class and sitting with a friend every day.

HC: What is your favorite part about being a PROUD member?

EVG: The puppies, duh! Actually though, the friends I have made are my absolute favorite part. The puppies and my bonds with them are incredible, the memories and connections I have made are awesome and the places we go along with the opportunities we have are amazing. But the friends I have made are completely irreplaceable. I have met some of my closest friends because of this club, and that’s honestly one of the best things I could have asked for.

HC: What are some challenges you faced during training?

EVG: Training is constantly challenging! Puppies always fluctuate between distracted, bored, stubborn, tired, opinionated… the list goes on and on. Some days your puppy completely wants to work, while some days they just, well, don’t. Between housebreaking, scary objects, new situations and places, commands and general puppy personalities, there are constantly new challenges to face and fears to overcome. Training is a work in progress, but it is so rewarding when your puppy conquers their fears and uncertainties and everything just clicks.

Emma and her PROUD puppy, Pitot.

HC: How do you balance classes, work and raising a puppy?

EVG: It’s really difficult sometimes and of course really tiring. It seems like I just go all day, every day and don’t really have time for a break, but I wouldn’t really want it any other way. My planner has been a lifesaver. I write everything down in my planner, set reminders on my phone and make tons of lists. Even if I’m having a hectic day, it’s really rewarding to sit down and cross something off a list, no matter how small it is. It not only helps me with keeping my thoughts organized, but helps with time management, which is pretty critical. It also helps that the club has so many sitters, as they are awesome and will take Pitot whenever I need someone or get too overwhelmed.

HC: How does it feel when Pitot succeeds?

EVG: It’s honestly addicting! It makes me so happy when something clicks with him. I literally end up feeling like a proud mom. I love that I can see him think and learn. It’s so rewarding to see him understand things and apply them to different situations. Just him trying his best makes me feel so excited and proud. Including when I hear a sitter say he did well or when I see him doing well.

HC: What do you do in your free time with Pitot when you are not training?

EVG: He just gets to do normal puppy things! We go on hikes together, play fetch, play with his favorite toys, play chase and of course his favorite: have playdates with his friends! Pitot can do everything a normal dog would do. He has stricter guidelines than a “normal” dog tends to have and training is pretty constant as our puppies are always learning, but he gets lots of free time to just be a dog!

HC: Does Pitot ever have puppy playdates?

EVG: Yes! He loves his playdates. I schedule lots of playdates with other raisers, as it’s a great way for Pitot to learn how to play with all the different ages and breeds of puppies that we have within our club. It’s also an amazing way to get his energy out! He has played with almost all the puppies in the club (although he does have a couple of best friends!).

HC: Overall, how would you describe your experience with Pitot?

EVG: Absolutely incredible. I would not trade my time with Pitot for anything. The feelings I get while seeing him grow and learn are indescribable and I cannot wait to see what he does once he goes on to formal guide dog training and is eventually matched with his blind person. Even though I’m supposed to be the one teaching him, he has already taught me so much in the couple of months he’s been with me. He makes my heart so full and happy and I know he’s going to someday touch someone’s life just as much as he has touched mine.

If puppy raising is something you see yourself doing, join PROUD at the University of Delaware.