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4 Paws Dog First in UK History to be Chosen for Alaska Program
Kentucky Ag Connection - 02/26/2020

There are tons of success stories at the University of Kentucky. However, in some cases there are few extra feet -- or paws -- and a little more fur involved.

Fiddler, a former 4 Paws for Ability golden retriever, has been selected as the first dog in UK history (according to the program) to be picked for the Advanced Training Alaska Program.

The Advanced Training Alaska Program is different than advanced training at the 4 Paws center in Ohio because it is much more specialized. Since the number of clients is fewer in Alaska, each dog is matched specifically to the client's needs.

Fiddler started his journey to becoming a service dog at a prison program in Ohio where an inmate taught him basic obedience. When Fiddler came to UK, after he was "paroled," he was the runt of his litter weighing only 24 pounds at 16 weeks old.

"I knew he would be the perfect service dog as soon as I picked him up. He heard a child cry at the movies and immediately wanted to go help it as a puppy," said Fiddler's former handler Paula Ames. "He was a tough puppy to be the runt. I had to teach him that he couldn't just chew on my mom's furniture."

Fiddler became a 4 Paws for Ability dog, a nonprofit organization based in Xenia, Ohio, that breeds, trains and places service dogs with children and veterans with disabilities.

The students at the University of Kentucky involved in the program volunteer to train the dogs until they are ready to move on to advanced training. They receive the puppies as young as 10 weeks old and typically keep them until they are a year old. The dogs go everywhere with their student handlers whether it is a lecture, a trip to the mall or a sporting event.

After over a year spent together, Ames and Fiddler were ready for their evaluation to see if he was ready to move onto advanced training to learn a specialization.

Months went by without hearing any results from Fiddler's evaluation. Finally, Ames got the news that Fiddler had been chosen for the Alaska Advanced Training Program -- a first for UK service dogs in training. Fiddler left Ames in January to travel to Alaska to train for his specialization.

"One of the hardest things I ever had to do was let him go, but I knew he had a bigger purpose. He is going to change someone's life," Ames said.

Ames still gets updates and photos of Fiddler from the trainer of the Alaska Program. She believes he was chosen based on his calm demeanor and love of working.

"The trainer said he was made for the north. The first time he played in the snow he wouldn't come back inside," Ames said.

Ames, a double major in special education from the College of Education and communication sciences and disorders from the College of Health Sciences, was actually drawn to UK for 4 Paws and saw it as a way to give back.

"UK wasn't my first choice, but as soon as I came to the campus I fell in love. During K Week I saw the booth for 4 Paws and knew it was something I wanted to do. I'm blessed to be able to do everyday tasks easily without assistance, so I wanted to help those that may not be able to."

Before 4 Paws the West Virginia native had never had a dog, but is currently fostering her third service dog in training.

The best part about 4 Paws -- Fiddler and Ames' story is not over yet. Ames is planning on traveling to Alaska to see Fiddler graduate from his advanced training program. Ames will also get to meet the family Fiddler is going to and learn what his specialization is. Most 4 Paws fosters are invited to their dog's graduations to see just how far they have come since they were at UK.

"The families usually keep in contact with the fosters. We know the dogs better than anyone and the families appreciate the hard work we put in," Ames said. "Even though the advanced training is what actually makes the dogs certified service dogs, without the fosters this program wouldn't be possible."

To learn more information about 4 Paws for Ability, visit https://uky.campuslabs.com/engage/organization/4-paws-for-ability.


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