Posted: April 26, 2017 at 8:00 pm

By Casey Gentile, Emily Martin and Leanne Shinkle

Brooklyne Hurley’s service dog, Cole, is one of the most popular residents in Towers.

“The kids love having Cole around,” said Mariah White, Hurley’s RA. “Even if they don’t see him every day, just knowing he is here is enough for them.”

Hurley, a freshman chemical engineering student, developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a child following medical experiences. She got Cole roughly 15 months ago and trained him herself so that she could use him to help curb her panic and asthma attacks when her PTSD is triggered.

One of the tasks Cole is trained to do is perform deep-pressure therapy, which is a way for him to distract Hurley from her panic attacks. He distributes his weight and body heat on Hurley to calm her and put all of her attention on him.

“It’s hard to explain what it does for you mentally,” Hurley said. “It puts you in the mindset that a dog is cuddling you and that you’re not actually dying.”

Hurley said she faced some minor pushback from the University. They first refused to allow him because Hurley had trained him herself instead of getting him from a professional service dog training program. Then they said he was not old enough to be a service dog, since most have to be at least two years old.

But, Hurley eventually gained permission from the University, and Cole is one of the most loved residents in Towers.

Hurley wants people to know that service dogs are trained to work and focus on their handlers’ needs. If a service dog is distracted by another person, they may miss signals that alert them to their handler’s oncoming seizure, narcolepsy, asthma attack, etc. This can be life-threatening for some.

“When you see service dogs, be respectful,” Hurley said.

WVU offer a specific program for students to train service dogs.

Hearts of Gold, run by Lindsay Parenti, allows students to enroll in the two-part class every semester. The first part is a lecture, where the students read the materials and are instructed on dog behavior. Then, once a week, they go to the lab portion of the class, located at the WVU Agriculture Farm, and do hands-on training with the dogs.

The goal of the training is to teach these dogs to be of service to individuals with mobility disabilities and psychiatric impairments, with a focus on veterans.

Hearts of Gold also has a program at the Federal Correctional Institute in Morgantown, a minimum-security prison, where the inmates train service dogs.

Myranda Klein, a 20-year-old animal and nutritional sciences student, has been training and showing dogs since she was nine years old. She chose WVU specifically because of Hearts of Gold and looked for ways to get more involved with the program.

FCI had been allowing their inmates—specifically veterans— to train shelter dogs for a few years before Hearts of Gold stepped in and took over the program.

Dogs are placed and live at FCI with the inmates, who participate in a lecture class twice a week and care for the dogs 24/7.  

Klein believes the program is important not only because Hearts of Gold ends up getting well-trained dogs at the hands of the inmates, but because the dogs allow the inmates to take care of someone besides themselves.

Klein says they have seen great results with the program at FCI.

“One of the prisoners who is getting released this week and has been with us for a while fell in love with the program,” Klein said. “When he gets released he wants to start his own dog-training business.”