Walking up to the utmost floor of the Union, I passed many smiling faces skipping down the stairs and leaving the venue. With exam season fast approaching, Edie Deffebach of Nightline told me that her society has teamed up with the newly formed Guide Dog Society provide the students of St Andrews with an event to relieve pre-exam stress: guide dog puppies. Having sold out in a matter of hours, the ticketed event provided the chance for small groups of students to spend quality time with one of several guide dog pups. Retired Tansy and five month old Captain stole the show, and with their inquisitive natures, they were more than happy to be the centre of attention.
Speaking to third year Cat McGillivray, the Vice President of the society, I was told that the aim of the event was simply to raise the awareness of what is involved in the training of young guide dogs, and the guidance and support that these dogs provide in later life. She says that a vital part of the guide training is to expose the puppies to occasions where they must socialise with humans, as it is humans – and not other dogs – that puppies must learn to be around. And luckily for us, it appears that students seem to be the perfect catalyst for such training conditions.
Looking around the room, it was easy to see how well the dogs were reacting to the student body. Being canoodled and fawned over at every moment, the puppies were watched closely by their trainers who were on hand to intermittently discipline and reinforce praise. I overheard the majority of the students talking to each other about family pets, and it was immediately apparent that the interaction with the guide dogs was providing the much missed daily interaction with dogs back at home.
Danny Rooney, a volunteer puppy walker and fundraiser with the St Andrews and North East Fife branch of Guide Dogs, says that per capita, St Andrews is one of the more successful towns for guide dog training (we have 8 puppies currently being trained around town). However, he claims that there is a severe lack of young volunteers, and in joining forces with the students of this University, he hopes to raise the awareness of the charity amongst a more youthful population. With each guide dog pup costing £50,000 to train, the society aims to raise enough money to sponsor a single puppy through its first year of ‘puppy walking’ (a £5000 sum in itself).
I’m sure that the students of St Andrews will be generous, as attendee Saeunn Gisladottir said: “It was so interesting and fun to meet the guide puppies. We learned a lot about the guide dog training and at the same time were able to take a break from our studies and hang out with someone cute and fluffy – it’s been scientifically proven that petting dogs relaxes the nerves and in my case I can say for sure that it worked. I think this will also inspire people to consider becoming guide dog trainers in the future or help out with the charity work.”