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ONU says goodbye to the Polar Pup


ZeekeZeeke may only be one year old, but in dog years, that's enough time to make an impact on an entire campus and starting fulfilling his destiny as a service dog. The golden retriever has been a familiar fixture on ONU's campus, transforming from tiny puppy into a beautiful, lively dog with an enormous capacity for bringing joy to others.

Just over a year ago, J.J. Coate, BS '08, began training Zeeke to be an assistance dog for the disabled as part of her senior honors project, devoting herself wholeheartedly to the task. The pair worked for two hours a day, on average, and Zeeke accompanied Coate nearly everywhere she went, including classes and trips to the cafeteria.

It was a year of milestones for Zeeke, as learned the foundational skills that will one day help him bring independence to a disabled person. On May 14, he made his formal goodbye to the campus when Coate gave her senior honors presentation. "I wanted to give background on the Canine Companions organization, as well as give Zeeke's story and his major accomplishments," says Coate.

In August, Zeeke will return to the regional training center in Delaware, Ohio, for six to nine months of additional preparation. After he completes the program, Zeeke will be matched with an owner, becoming a full-fledged Canine Companion. Coate plans to keep track of Zeeke's progress and take part in the ceremonial "passing of the leash" when he graduates next year.

Coate will be moving on with her career as well, attending the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine next fall.

Although the dynamic pair will be separating soon, Coate is preparing herself to let go. "Zeeke really was the perfect dog for this project. He loves the world, and I think some of my best memories of him were the little things - giving him a bath, watching him grow up, and just letting him run free on the tundra. Those are things I'll miss the most"

When she thinks back on the experience, Coate feels lucky for the chance to have Zeeke in her life, and she's confident he will bring joy to someone else.

"While it will be very sad to say goodbye, I'm extremely honored to have been able to train Zeeke. The project consumed me fully, and I'm very proud of myself for sacrificing so much for him, but more importantly, I'm proud of Zeeke and his progress. I feel like I'm sending a child into the world."