Chris Armstrong is training Carolina for a future as a guide dog.
When Chris Armstrong, associate professor of communication at Northampton Community College, suffered a devastating house fire last spring, she lost her two cats. While recovering, she knew she wasn't ready to replace them. Yet she did feel it would be helpful to have a pet around.
"I know someone who had raised a guide dog, and had considered doing it myself in the past," Armstrong shared. "It seemed like a good short term fit while I was figuring things out."
Armstrong was paired with Carolina, a yellow lab from the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America's Vet Dogs.
Then the training began.
"I went through the process of home visits, receiving the training manual, and the initial training. Carolina and I attend training a few times a month with other raisers and guide dogs. Carolina is such a great dog. I got lucky with how quickly she has taken to it all."
This training includes having Carolina everywhere Armstrong goes, including the classroom.
"I know people think it seems like fun - and there are definite rewards - but everything takes longer. Although she does a lot to help me out already, I still have to take care of her and she doesn't always feel like being 'on' while working," she said. When Armstrong is teaching, Carolina mostly naps in the front of the classroom.
At the beginning of each of her courses, Armstrong gives a presentation explaining the training program and guide dog etiquette. She invites students to come to her with any concerns.
"I've had lots of questions, but everyone loves having her around," Armstrong said.
Carolina has quite the fan club. Kate Curry, assistant professor of early childhood education, is in the running for president.
"Having Carolina in the building provides a special kind of warmth and joy, especially on busy days. Being greeted by a happy wet nose and wagging tail has a way of draining the stress from the day," Curry enthused.
Curry would be a good choice to head Armstrong's fan club, too.
"I don't think people realize what a service Chris is providing as she trains Carolina to serve someone who desperately needs the love and help of an animal. In many ways, I think Chris' commitment to raising Carolina epitomizes the heart of NCC in serving the community. Hats off to her and her willingness to serve and to Carolina for loving all humans she meets unconditionally! Goodness knows we need more of that," shared Curry.
Carolina will go back to the Foundation this summer. There she'll be tested to see what job she's most suited to perform. She could serve as a guide for the blind, the hardest to qualify for. She might also work with a veteran in any number of capacities, or she could be assigned to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for detecting bombs or drugs.
"It will certainly be hard when Carolina goes back, but I've known from the start that she is not my dog. I'm simply raising her to be a great help to someone who needs her," Armstrong explained. "My hope is that Carolina is matched with someone who sees what a great dog she is and that she can provide great support and friendship for many years to come."