Service dog helps HU freshman manage classes

Don’t be surprised if you see a beautiful black dog walking around campus if you haven’t already.

And no matter how tempting it is, curb the urge to pet the K9. She isn’t a faculty member’s pet or the university mascot; she’s working.

Galaxy is a 2-year-old service dog who helps Harrisburg University freshman Collin Butler manage stress induced by autism.

“She has only been here two times, and everyone loves her,” Butler, a Geospatial Technology major, said. “But, most people ask first if they can pet her,”

Susquehanna Service Dogs trained Galaxy to detect when Butler is feeling stressed, but she also responds to commands.

For example, when Galaxy senses that Butler is unknowingly rocking in his seat or swaying while standing, she will nudge him to make him aware of it.

Galaxy also responds to the commands, “bump” and “touch.” And she even will lay across Butler’s legs on command. The pressure she applies to his legs helps Butler cope with stress.

“Galaxy is really helpful in certain instances,” said Collin’s mother, Michele Butler. “And she is really helpful at home. But we can’t be super playful with her all the time. She is focused on him. At home, we have to have minimal contact with her.”

HU Geospatial Technology major Collin Butler is pictured with “Galaxy,” a service dog who helps him manage classes.

Service dogs often are trained to help people bound to wheelchairs or assist those saddled with hearing, balance or seizure issues, said Ruby Ile, who, along

with her husband, Keith, trained Galaxy. Galaxy was the first dog the Iles trained for Susquehanna Service Dogs.

And since only a select few of the dogs placed with trainers become service dogs, the couple is thrilled that Galaxy made the cut.

The Iles now are training a second service dog that goes by the name Gannett – named after Gannett Fleming, the company that Ruby and Keith work for.

Susquehanna Service Dogs placed Galaxy with the Isles when she was eight weeks old.

The Iles were given a 170-page manual and went to class one night a week throughout the initial training period.

Galaxy stayed in the Ile’s East Pennsboro Township home full-time, from December 11, 2015 through March 19, 2017.

On March 19, 2017, she entered Advanced Training, which is the equivalent of entering college.

During Advanced Training, she stayed with Susquehanna Service Dogs Monday through Friday, and lived with the Iles during the weekends.

Galaxy was placed with the Butler’s in their Cumberland County home last month. In addition to homes, service dogs can be placed in schools, courthouses, prisons, nursing homes, oncology clinics,

and other facilities.

“Galaxy has been trained to interrupt behaviors that may interfere with Collin’s ability to be successful, as well as complete tasks that will reduce anxiety, e.g.,

bumping his leg when she notices increased anxiety, offering “visit,” and

providing “pressure,” Susquehanna Service dogs said.

Susquehanna Service Dogs learns how anxiety or stress may manifest physically in the partner, and trains the dog to look for those and respond as well as

responding on cue when asked by the partner.

After a bond was formed between Collin and Galaxy, the two spent time working together. Galaxy picked up on his anxiety symptoms quickly and responds without

being cued, Ruby said.

This was evident during the team training process. For instance, once during homework time, Collin became anxious. Galaxy initiated “visit” without being

asked and he could return to his homework.

Often, when service dogs like Galaxy are placed with people with a diagnosis of autism, it gives them the confidence to explore things like college and

employment. Their service dog often acts as an avenue for them to be more comfortable socializing or starting conversation – their service dog provides a starting point for conversation.

This is especially true at HU, where Galaxy seems to have a similarly soothing effect on everyone she meets.

And while she is busy working while she is on campus, petting isn’t strictly forbidden.

Just say hello and ask Collin whether it’s a good time to meet HU’s new family member before you pet her.

Chances are, the answer will be, ‘yes.’

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields/ For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.