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It’s Kindergarten to College for Ohio Northern’s Polar Pup


ZeekeIt’s been three months since ONU first met Zeeke, the adorable golden retriever puppy that will one day be a certified service animal. Zeeke and his handler, J.J. Coate, who is training Zeeke for her senior capstone project, have had an exciting summer. From shopping trips to getting ready for college—read about their “tails” in J.J.’s latest journal entry:

Hello Ohio Northern students, faculty and staff! It’s hard to believe, but Zeeke turned five months old on Aug. 19! He now weighs a whopping 57 pounds, but no, he’s not fat, he’s just “big boned.”

This summer Zeeke attended “Puppy Kindergarten” classes at PetSmart. He has learned nearly 15 commands, including basic ones such as “sit,” “stay,” and “down,” but he occasionally shows off with tricks like “bow.”

Zeeke also made several shopping trips. It’s interesting to see shoppers’ reactions when they spot a puppy. Some people laugh and start cooing (even fully grown men get on their hands and knees to meet Zeeke), while other people are completely oblivious to his presence—which can be dangerous for Zeeke. His constantly wagging tail is always in danger of being stepped on or run over by a shopping cart. I’m now very aware of watching out for Zeeke in crowded environments.

Since Zeeke is a service dog “in-training” he is not protected by Disability Act laws that mandate “certified” service dogs’ access into facilities. Therefore, whenever I take him to a new place, I must negotiate with management and ask permission before entering the store. Most places are very hospitable; some employees actually know Zeeke by name and comment on how much he is growing. Other places only allow “certified” animals, which is frustrating. How can Zeeke learn if he cannot experience the situation while in training?

J.J. and ZeekeGrowing pains aside, Zeeke is truly a ray of golden sunshine. The most rewarding experience is watching people, especially children, interact with him. Once kids see a puppy they light up, they smile, they laugh, they pull their parents over to go see the puppy and Zeeke wags his tail, too, causing his whole body to wiggle in excitement. This heartwarming experience is worth all the effort that goes into raising Zeeke. Someday Zeeke’s job will be cheering up the gloomy and helping the disabled, and judging from his behavior this summer, Zeeke is going to be a great service dog.

Now that he has survived kindergarten, it’s time for Zeeke’s next challenge—college! We’re both looking forward to seeing you on campus, especially Zeeke who is quite the little ham. Zeeke loves to meet new people, but remember to ask the handler before petting him, as he is in training.

Good luck in the upcoming year and be sure to look for more Zeeke updates.

J.J. Coate is a senior from South Vienna, OH.
She’s majoring in biology and pre-veterinary medicine.