Isabelle Rowe Trains Service Dog for Senior Project

dsc_2213 This series captures the Class of 2017’s experience as they pursue their Senior Projects. Stay in touch with Ross News for ongoing coverage!

Ross News would like to introduce you to one of the campus’s most diligent students this year: Tucci, the Golden Retriever puppy. Tucci’s constant companion, Isabelle Rowe ’17, is training her to become a Seeing Eye Guide Dog as her Senior Project, and the pair of them can frequently be seen around campus.

Isabelle got the idea to train a puppy following her eleventh grade Modernity project, in which she recreated Ivan Pavlov’s experiments conditioning animals. “Working with the dogs was amazing, and it gave me true results. Dogs can’t fake data!” Isabelle says. For her Senior Project, “I knew I wanted to do something altruistic, in line with our Ross Core Values.”

Isabelle applied for the puppy-raising program with the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, based in Smithtown, NY. The organization works to improve the quality of life for vision-impaired people by providing them with trained guide dogs at no cost. The foundation relies upon the assistance of volunteers to care for and provide preliminary training to puppies for 12–16 months. After they reach this age, they are returned to the organization, where they are assigned to permanent handlers and given advanced needs-specific training.

Isabelle’s initial project challenge was making special arrangements to be allowed to participate in the program. She is only 17—a year younger than the Guide Dog Foundation’s minimum age requirement to foster puppies. Additionally, she had to work to coordinate with the Ross administration in order to have a dog with her on campus.

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In July, two months after receiving clearance from Ross, the Guide Dog Foundation paired Isabelle with Tucci, a three-month-old Golden Retriever puppy. Now, Tucci is a playful six-month-old who has proven to be bright and successful at learning commands. She attends school with Isabelle and has her own space among the senior desks: a large crate outfitted with fluffy blankets, treats, toys, and training spray.

For much of the day, Tucci wears a bright yellow vest emblazoned with the words “Future Assistance Dog.” The vest signifies to Tucci and the public that she is at work, but when it is removed, she becomes like any other rambunctious puppy. She frolics through the halls, gnaws on her leather lead, and flops onto her back for belly rubs.

Like many of her classmates, Isabelle is fond of Tucci, but she knows that the success of her project depends on her ability to remain somewhat detached. “I love her, but I cannot be attached to her like my own dog,” Isabelle said. “It would be too hard to give her back.” However, knowing that Tucci is destined to be so much more than a pet, with her future as an indispensable companion for an individual in need ahead of her, is a reward in itself.