Photo courtesy of Megan Ehl
Senior Megan Ehl Trains Four-Legged Friends At La Salle Through Healing Hounds Service Dogs
"Along with seeing the impact that they make with the people they're placed with," Ehl said that she values "being able to see the dogs grow up and gain skills that will one day make an impact and give someone with a disability independence."
When walking past senior Megan Ehl in the halls of La Salle, many students will notice that she is often accompanied by a furry friend. Since her junior year, Ehl has been training dogs as part of her work as a volunteer puppy raiser for Healing Hounds Service Dogs.
During the summer of 2017, Lindsay Chavez, a graduate of La Salle’s Class of 2011 and founder of Healing Hounds Service Dogs, needed somewhere for one of their dogs to stay for just a week. Ehl and her family took in Archie, a seven-month-old Goldendoodle, marking the beginning of Ehl’s involvement with the Healing Hounds organization.
“It turned out they needed someone to train him for longer, so I just kind of fell into it and started with Archie,” Ehl said. She ended up training Archie for eight more months.
In the less than two years since, Ehl has trained a total of four dogs, and a big part of her training them involves helping the dogs get comfortable with big groups of people, which she does by bringing them to school each day. “Being in a classroom environment is something they might have to be in once they’re done being trained and they’re placed, so it’s good exposure for them and it works on them settling into a kind of crazy environment,” Ehl said.
Ehl admits that bringing a dog with her to school every day is hard work and can even become annoying at times. “Sometimes I’m trying to get somewhere but people want to pet the dog,” Ehl said. “It can be a lot to have the responsibility of a dog while at school, which is something I don’t think people understand.”
However, the comfort she finds in having a dog with her throughout the day makes up for challenges that come with it. “Sometimes it will be a stressful day, but you have a dog with you that you can just hang out with, and I know it brings joy to other people at school so that’s cool,” Ehl said.
The dogs Ehl has trained have at times even helped to liven up her classes.” Archie loved to chew on the tennis balls on the bottom of the stools in Mr. Owen’s chemistry class last year,” Ehl said.
Ehl’s job in training the dogs doesn’t stop at the end of the school day, as she spends the majority of her time with the dogs and must take them with her almost everywhere. One of Ehl’s main focuses in training the dogs she raises, is handling them, or trying to help them become comfortable with being touched. “While they’re eating [I] get into their paws and mess with their paws,” Ehl said. “Or say they were placed with a kid with Autism who might not know boundaries with a dog, getting them used to everything they might encounter, so children going all over them or things like that.”
The amount of time Ehl spends training each dog varies depending on when she gets them and when they find a person for the dogs to serve. “I had Archie for eight months, [but I only] had Emmett for four months,” Ehl said. “When someone needs a service dog they put in an application, and if they get approved, they will evaluate the dog, and go to Lindsay for final training specific to that person’s needs.”
One of the most difficult parts of Ehl’s job is having to say goodbye to a dog once it’s time for them to be placed. “Because you’re with them so much you get pretty attached to them so that’s pretty hard,” Ehl said. She had an especially challenging time when the most recent dog she trained, Emmett, left her home to stay at Carroll College with her older sister, Taylor Ehl, who is also a puppy raiser.
Archie was placed in May of 2018, encouraging Ehl to stay involved with training service dogs. “I saw the impact that Archie made on his kid, and the little things that I can do to help them in their training,” Ehl said. “The end goal and the impact they make on the people they’re with is really cool to see.”
Ehl hopes to continue volunteering as a puppy raiser in college, and possibly wants to major in anthrozoology so she can learn more about the bond between humans and animals while also being able to continue working with dogs more specifically. However, she is also considering majoring in psychology or nursing.