Camden Olson's Gap Year

Frani O’Toole Attending Princeton University in the fall of 2015, Senior Camden Olson is going to be spending the next year raising a guide dog named Derby and working at a small dental clinic in Maine. She gave a presentation about her gap year during gathering earlier this month, but, generous as always, Camden took the time to answer a few of The Forums additional questions. Here are her responses:   F: What gave you the idea? C: When I was in 7th grade, I read a story about a 6th grader who raised a puppy for the blind. Since then, it has been my dream to raise a guide dog puppy. Taking a gap year finally gave me the opportunity to live that dream.   F: How long have you been planning the gap year? C: Right after junior year ended is when I really considered taking a gap year. I remember telling my mom, “you better tell me now if you have any reservations about this idea, because I’m going to get so invested in it that I’ll be torn if you say no later.”   F: Did you have to apply to train a guide dog puppy? If so, what did the application process look like? C: There is an application to raise the puppy, then you attend a pre-placement course, which is about 6 1-hour classes that prepare you for the arrival of the puppy.   F: What will an average day look like? C: In addition to raising Derby, I’m also working at a small dental clinic and focusing on public health and community outreach (and I think I get to work with kids). Each day I’ll take Derby for walks and lots of socialization opportunities. I’m hoping that at some point I’ll be able to bring him into work as well.   F: What are some ways you will train Derby? C: Derby comes with a very strict training regiment. Basically every skill has to be learned in a very specific way. Of course he has to know the basics—potty-trained and able to sit, down, come, stay, walk nicely on leash, etc.—but there are also things unique to his future job that he has to work on. For example, the command “close” means he has to sit between my legs, facing away from me. This will be used when the blind person is on the subway or some other tight space, and Derby will need to get out of the way. He also is not allowed to exhibit marking behavior or lift his leg when he uses the bathroom. Eventually, he will also have to learn to walk on a leash and ignore everything around him, including people, dogs, etc.   F: At what age will Derby be done with training? C: It takes 14-18 months to raise a guide dog, so sometime next summer he will go for is IFT Test (In-for-training Test), where he will be evaluated and hopefully move on to the next step. If he passes, he spends about 4-5 months doing more intensive training, such as how to lead a blind person. Then he spends a month with his blind handler and then he graduates. I get to attend graduation if he makes it there. If he doesn’t pass, he will be considered for other careers, such as a service dog for children with autism, someone with diabetes, severe allergies, epilepsy, and so many more. If he fails all of those (which hopefully he won’t), he will stay with us for the rest of his life.   F: What excites you most about doing this gap year? What kind of things do you hope to learn? C: I’m excited to finally have a dog. I’ve waited so long! And I’m hoping to learn more about dogs, specifically working dogs. I’m especially interested in how working dogs can be better utilized in the medical environment for emotional and physical therapy, and I’m hoping that if I can bring Derby to work, I can experiment with how that will be a possibility.   F: Do you have any stories from your time with Derby thus far? C: One time, I was reading on the couch, and all the dogs were asleep (my grandparents have two other dogs as well). All of a sudden I heard a big clang, and I look up to see the water bowl completely turned over, a gush of water spilling onto the floor, seeping into the cracks between the hearth bricks. But all the dogs are sound asleep. As I frantically searched for a towel, I see Derby in the middle of his bed, his growing body only concealing a few of the wet puppy paw prints that surround the seemingly undisturbed sleeping pup.   Thanks to Camden for answering my questions—on behalf of the Latin community, what you’re doing is incredible, and we wish you the best of luck!]]>