Hannah Loewenstein had just finished her junior year at Ohio State University in June 2020 when she met Bewley.
Bewley, a Golden Retriever puppy, was five months old at the time. Born at 4 Paws for Ability, a service dog training organization in Xenia, it was time for him to learn socialization skills.
Bewley lived with Loewenstein in their Columbus apartment, and they spent most of their time together until Loewenstein graduated in May and Bewley completed full-service dog seizure warning training.
4 Paws for Ability has active student volunteer organizations at 14 universities, including one in Ohio State, where Loewenstein first became involved.
In the state of Ohio, more than 100 members are involved in the program by providing primary foster homes for dogs, acting as sitters when primary carers are away, and participating in fundraisers and other events.
The task of the students is to socialize dogs in the first year of life in such a way that they are exposed to as many situations as possible. When the dogs are around 1½ years old, they return to Xenia to train in certain roles, such as:
“My friend wanted to join the club in my sophomore year of college,” said Loewenstein, 22, on the phone from her Columbus home. “I could never have done it on my own, but I decided to work with her and started making friends in the organization.”
In May 2020 Loewenstein took over the socialization training for Al, a golden retriever with whom her friend Autumn Beam had worked.
“She couldn’t keep her dog because she had to leave for work in the summer, so she wanted the dog to stay with someone he knew and was familiar with.”
When the dog went to Xenia for further training, Loewenstein got Bewley.
“We went to the cinema, to the grocery store, to Target, to the zoo. And we practiced working on things around the house like people knocking on the door. Anything you can think of would be a strange experience for a dog. ”
The biggest challenge for Bewley, Loewenstein said, was that “he has something called suspicious barking, so he barks when someone comes into the house to warn me. And that is not a desirable trait in a service dog. So it was a lot of patience, repetition and a change in his mindset. ”
And the biggest challenge for Löwenstein?
“Give up on him. My senior year of college was my first time living alone, but I was living alone with Bewley, so I was different all the time. Now I actually have to live alone. And I have to entrust him to others. ”
Fortunately, one of those other people is Loewenstein’s mother, Debbie Loewenstein, who lives in Cincinnati.
4 Paws, a non-profit organization that began operating in 1998, is set up to provide training program service dogs get their weekends off and spend them with families or individuals. Bewley spends the weekends with Loewenstein’s mother, who takes a lot of photos to let her daughter know how he’s doing.
Loewenstein also knows that Bewley will take on an important role as a service dog after his training.
“My first dog when he graduated, his family was so welcoming and excited to meet, and they just let us know what a wonderful gift we had given their family. It brings tears to your eyes, “she said.
One of the children who has benefited from the presence of a service dog is 12 year old Joe Welter who has autism.
“He started having aggressive breakdowns. He would walk around with a permanent bruise on his forehead because he always banged his head when he melted down. And he had a lot of trouble sleeping, ”said Joe’s mother, Stephanie Welter, 42, on the phone from her house in Tip City.
“We found 4 Paws, one of the first organizations to provide service dogs to children with autism. Joe met Mulder in December 2017. Joe has slept through the night since the day we first brought Mulder home, ”she said.
Mulder, a gold scribble, is trained in what is known as “behavior disorder”.
“As soon as Joe gets upset, Mulder goes to work to calm him down. He’s trained to touch it so he can focus on the dog, ”she said.
This was difficult at first.
“Joe didn’t like the feel of Mulder’s paw on his leg or arm, but we knew he liked a dog licking it. So we taught Mulder how to lick and now Mulder finds creative places to lick him like his neck or his head and it breaks him every time, ”she said.
Even before Mulder came to them, the 4-paw Welters were volunteering, partly because of Joe’s sister Anna, two years younger than Joe and a real dog person.
“When we were out with 4 Paws, Joe didn’t want to bond with the dogs, but my daughter, who was learning to walk at the time, stumbled on every one of them,” she said.
So they decided to become a guardian for Hercules, a Golden Labrador Retriever and one of the organization’s designated breeder dogs.
“If he’s needed, we take him to 4 Paws and he lives with us the rest of the time. When they find it is time for him to retire, they will fix him and he will stay with us for the rest of his life. ”
4 Paws has 600 to 700 dogs at various stages of training at any given time, around 350 of which live in the community.
“For our socialization caregivers, it’s roughly 50/50 between college students and other families and individuals,” said Jennifer Lutes, the organization’s assistant director, over the phone from her home in Xenia.
Lutes, 44, has been with the organization since she started volunteering at the age of 14.
“There are many ways to get involved,” she says. “We have puppies that need a home for up to a year and we have dogs that need a place to hang out on weekends. We also have people who do short-term care. You apply for the program, do online training, an on-site briefing and then you get the dog. ”
As the organization requires close communication with the dogs and their foster parents and provides a vet for the dogs, 4 Paws recommends potential volunteers to live within a three hour drive of Xenia.
“There is no disadvantage in giving him a chance,” said Loewenstein. “One of the best things about it is the support you get from everyone in the organization. You’re sure to get a lot of good advice on problems. Even if you’ve never had a dog, you can definitely be successful. ”
4 Paws for Ability is located at 207 Dayton Ave., Xenia. For more information on volunteering at 4 Paws for Ability, call 937-374-0385 or visit 4pawsforability.org.