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Zeeke’s First Year Experience



When we first met Zeeke, the golden retriever destined to be a service dog, he was just a tiny puppy in a big world. This year, he's continuing to train with J.J. Coate, senior biology and pre-veterinary medicine major from South Vienna, Ohio, and getting a college education in the process. At six months and 65 pounds, Zeeke is not so small anymore and neither is the buzz he's generating around ONU.

But he's still the same Zeeke - sweet, playful and a ham! As part of his training, he must accompany his trainer, Coate, everywhere; meaning the ONU campus has become his classroom and playground.

Whether he's taking in a geology class, observing the bustling campus squirrels, or watching the Polar Bears score, Zeeke is always a big hit. He has even made friends with ONU mascot, Klondike, although it took a little prodding from Coate to get him to pose for a photo. "I think the mighty Polar Bear scared him a little," she joked.

As much fun as he's having at college, Zeeke still has serious work to do. Every morning he spends 20 minutes reviewing commands and practicing his various tricks with Coate. After a summer of "Puppy Kindergarten," Zeeke can now jump through hoola hopes, shake hands, bow, and do "puppy" push-ups.

Zeeke is also learning to play nicely with others. "He's really fascinated by the dogs on campus, but he's not used to being the bigger dog," said Coate. "It's really funny to see him with a Dachshund." As for cats, Zeeke is learning to resist the urge to chase them. College educated or not, dogs will be dogs.

While Coate is his full-time trainer, she sometimes has to call upon one of her designated "Puppy Raisers" to look after him when she has other obligations. Coate dubs David Walters, junior mechanical engineering major, Zeeke's "surrogate father."

With such an active social life, Zeeke sometimes needs a break. "He can stay alone for a few hours at a time," explained Coate, "because, realistically, a handicapped person can't take him everywhere. It's important that he also learns to be by himself."

Zeeke still has much more to learn before he can become certified, but for now, he's savoring everything ONU has to offer. It's an exhausting schedule for a young pup. Luckily, it's only his trainer who has to stay awake during class time. Zeeke likes to curl up on the cool floor of a lab to catch up on his sleep.

Written by Autumn Steiner
Junior, professional writing
Bluffton, Ohio