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UMd. students training puppies into life-saving service dogs

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From, WBAL TV Baltimore

Visitors to the University of Maryland-College Park might see some puppies around campus, but they're not students. They are a labor of love.

Holly Gaylor is one of 17 Maryland students helping to transform a fun-loving puppy into a life-saving service dog for someone in need.

"It gives you the opportunity to help someone and make a huge difference in someone's life. So that's what made me do it, just the ability to change someone's life," said Gaylor, who's training 10-month-old Splash.

"It's great feeling like you're making an impact on somebody's life, especially once you can see the pictures of the dogs that have already graduated, and also you get to have your best friend that goes with you everywhere, which is great too," said Melissa Smith, a puppy raiser.

Laura Werber's family raised future service dogs, so she decided to start the program at Maryland.

"I reached out to students in my year and I was like, 'Is anyone interested in raising a puppy on campus for the Guide Dog Foundation?' And we got, like, 200 inquiries that first night, and it was insane. I didn't expect the amount of response," Werber said.

To qualify, a student must be at least a sophomore and must live in a house or apartment, not a dorm. Students and their puppies attend training classes led by Deana Stone from America's Vet Dogs, and puppy raiser of WBAL-TV's Puppy with a Purpose, Camden.

Once the pups are about 15 months old, they must say goodbye to their constant companions. The dogs will go on to New York for further training.

"That's where the real trainers actually teach the dogs guide dogs skills. We like to equate what we as puppy raisers do as undergrad. We lay this great foundation and when they leave us, they go to grad school, but then we turn into their cheerleaders and really want them to do well," Stone said.

"We're able to meet the person that she gets matched up with, and I think that'll be an awesome feeling to see and hear how much she'll be able to change their life," Gaylor said.

The students admit that it's a lot of work, but it's a labor of love.

"They're not putting all this hard work in for themselves. They're putting all this hard work in for someone else," Stone said.

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