Wildcat Service Dogs (WSD) is a completely student-run organization at the University of Kentucky that is dedicated to training future assistance dogs and raising awareness about the laws that protect them. Our puppies begin training at the age of approximately 8-12 weeks, where they are placed with a student puppy raiser. Over the course of the first year of their lives, they will undergo extensive training and socialization to prepare them for advanced training to become fully active assistance dogs. Upon graduation from our program, they will move onto advanced training at our partner facility in Sylvania, OH: Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence. Each dog receives approximately 1 year of advanced training at ADAI before graduating and being placed with their "forever person" in need.
All WSD puppies are raised by college students, who are responsible for the socialization, training and housing of their service dog partner for 10-12 months. All of our trainers must complete a rigorous selection and basic training process prior to receiving their puppy. All trainers are required to attend weekly training sessions, meetings and monthly socialization outings in addition to writing weekly progress reports for submission to our two training supervisors, who are in constant contact with our partners at ADAI.
Wildcat Service Dogs was founded in the spring of 2011, when University of Kentucky student Katie Skarvan received an assistance dog Goldendoodle puppy to train. While attending classes at UK, several students approached Katie and asked her how to get involved in the puppy raising process. A few months later, a second student (Jennifer Hamilton) received a dog to train through this program. The organization grew from there, and WSD officially registered with the University of Kentucky in August of that same year. WSD began its partnership with Assistance Dogs for Achieving Independence (ADAI) in the Spring of 2012, thus shaping the way in which our organization is run to this day.
WSD is extremely proud of its growth since its founding in spring of 2011. Through our partnership with ADAI, we have the resources to increase our service dog training education as a club to pass onto recurring students.
WSD has an officer team of 11 students on UK's campus, and as many as 3-10 program dogs at any given time. Our mission is to work together to set these special dogs up to succeed as service dogs for people in need.
What is a service dog?
A service or assistance dog is a dog that has been trained to help a disabled person accomplish simple, everyday tasks. Tasks of a service dog can range from opening doors, retrieving dropped items, providing support for wheelchair transfers, pushing elevator buttons, switching on and off light switches, to alerting to medical imbalances and much more. Click here for more information!
What are puppy raisers?
WSD puppy raisers are students at the University of Kentucky that volunteer to raise and train a service dog puppy. They receive an 8-12 week old puppy, and keep the dog for 10-12 months. WSD trainers are responsible for teaching all basic obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, heel, touch, etc., and some advanced commands. They are also responsible for thorough socialization of the puppy, and facilitating positive experiences with everything that the puppy could encounter in public as a working dog. Puppy raisers lay the foundation for advanced training, by teaching the puppies good house manners, confidence, and fostering happiness and a strong desire to work.
What am I financially responsible for as a WSD puppy raiser?
WSD puppy raisers are financially responsible for the dog's food, grooming, treats, and some veterinary bills, as well as any supplies or toys that you buy for your puppy.
What do I need to do to become a WSD puppy raiser?
I'm a student at UK, but I'm not ready to make the commitment of being a puppy raiser. How else can I help?
We would love to have you help us out by becoming a puppy sitter! Puppy sitters help us by watching our program dogs when our full-time trainers cannot. Each student wishing to become a sitter for WSD must complete a semester-long training process, after which they will be trained and prepared to handle any of our working program dogs in public.
What do I need to do to become a WSD Sitter?
New Member Orientation is held near the start of every semester, which is the first step toward getting involved! Be sure to follow our Facebook page and check our updated calendar to stay up-to-date with meeting announcements and membership requirements.
How else can I help WSD?
See our “Donate” tab at the top of this page for more information on how to support our trainers and puppies in training! We also offer a sponsorship opportunity for those businesses, individuals, or families wishing to sponsor one dog’s journey through basic training toward becoming a service dog for someone in need. For more information on how you can sponsor a puppy, check the graphic below, or click here for more information.
I am looking for a service dog for myself or a loved one, how can I receive a service dog?
At this time, WSD does only the basic training of its dogs. After one year of training wih us, our dogs are sent to ADAI, an ADI-accredited advanced training facility that finishes each dog's training and matches them with their recipients.
If you are looking for service dogs in your area, we recommend that you seek an Assistance Dogs International (ADI) accredited organization. If a training facility has passed ADI's qualifications to become a member, you can be confident that the organization is reputable. However, that is not to say that organizations that are not members are not reputable. You can search ADI's website for an organization that would best fit your needs and is closest to your area. Unfortunately, there are not any certified training facilities in Kentucky at this time. It is possible that organizations in surrounding states would still be able to supply you with a service dog, and if you search a surrounding state you will see that there are organizations that have their geographic area listed as "the US" or "90 mile radius of Cincinnati." We have listed the link to the ADI website here. We wish you the best of luck in your search!
Email our President, Emma Rhodes, at
or send us a message through our Facebook page for more information!
Be sure to join us for our orientation meeting at the beginning of each semester!
Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram for upcoming events and WSD updates!
"Being a trainer will change your life. You learn patience, problem-solving and persistence.There are no words to describe how much someone grows through a partnership with a service dog in training."
-Hannah White, Training Supervisor (2013).
"WSD is an amazing organization. As an active member for four years, I learned that helping others not only gives back to society as a whole, but it also brings someone personal and lifelong joy."
-Jennifer Lyons, Puppy Raiser (2013) & Training Supervisor (2014).
"Getting to grow close to each dog through sitting has been life changing. These dogs truly leave paw prints on your heart and I feel so blessed to watch them grow."
-Brianna Vollman, WSD Sitter (2017).
"The puppies I raised will have a place in my heart forever, but most of all, I am so grateful to have been given the chance to help them grow into dogs who can make someone's life better in a way that I can never fully understand. It was such an incredible experience to be able to give something so special to someone else."
-Molly Mathistad, Puppy Raiser (2017), Training Supervisor (2017), & President (2018).
"Having a little puppy taught a big responsibility of time management and just being responsible in general. I'm so thankful he was brought into my life and still changes lives today."
-Haley Barter, Puppy Raiser & Secretary (2016).
"I get so excited for every dog in the program because every dog has so much potential and I love seeing them fulfill that purpose. I will forever be grateful to this program for showing me and letting me fulfill a passion for helping dogs, help people!"
-Caitlin Hudson, WSD Sitter & Photography Chair (2017).