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Puppy Power: Research investigates effects on first-year students

Published October 19, 2020

Whether you're an occupational therapy major or just find yourself spending time on campus, you've probably crossed paths with Orion and her handler Laura Poleshuck, a clinical associate professor in the Occupational Therapy Department at Nazareth. She is raising the female black labrador retriever puppy to be trained and matched as a guide dog for a person who's blind, but she also suspects it benefits college students to have a dog around — and she and her grad students are doing the research to investigate that theory. After completing puppy raiser training through Guiding Eyes for the Blind's Canine Development Center in Patterson, New York, she was connected with Orion. The black lab was only 6 weeks old — placed earlier than usual because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Poleshuck and her graduate students are conducting research to measure the impact of weekly interactions with a future guide dog on first-year students' mood, homesickness, and campus affinity. GPA and retention rates are being monitored.


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Nazareth College’s academic strengths cross an unusually broad spectrum of 60 majors, including education, health and human services, management, the fine arts, music, theater, math and science, foreign languages, and the liberal arts. The coeducational, religiously independent, classic campus in a charming suburb of Rochester, N.Y., challenges and supports 2,300 undergrads and 700 graduate students. Nazareth is recognized nationally for its Fulbright global student scholars and commitment to civic engagement. Rigorous programs, an uncommon arts and sciences core, experiential learning, career skills, and a global focus prepare graduates for not just one job, but for their life’s work.

First-year student Gabrielle Luthy with Orion.