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UCF students filled the Burnett Honors College Reading Room on Tuesday from wall-to-wall as they expressed dedication and interest in becoming part of the university’s new program for service dogs.

Morgan Bell, a sophomore statistics and finance major, is working to gather interest for an official spring launch of a Service-Dog Training and Education Program, or what is better known as STEP@UCF.

At 7 p.m. in the Honors College, Bell and Canine Companions for Independence Puppy Program Manager LeAnn Siefferman gave a joint presentation about puppy raising and the launch of the new program.

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CCI is a nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships, according to a CCI pamphlet. In the southeast region alone, there are seven colleges and universities involved in the CCI puppy raising program.

UCF President John C. Hitt adopted one of CCI’s release dogs — a dog that doesn’t make it in professional training for either behavioral or medical reasons. Siefferman said Hitt’s interest helped start the STEP@UCF program on campus.

“We’ve worked with the administration to essentially create a policy that says, ‘UCF is solely committed to a relationship with Canine Companions,’” Siefferman said. “I really like seeing a need and creating a solution to meet that need.”

In a partnership with CCI, Bell said UCF students will be able to raise and train a future service dog from eight weeks to 18 to 20 months.

Bell is currently raising a 4-month-old puppy, Robin, who was by her side for the hour-long meeting.

“So far from puppy raising, I’ve gained patience, time management, record-keeping skills and accountability. Not only do you improve yourself, but you also become involved in the lives of people who receive the dogs,” she said.

And even if students don’t think they are able to raise a puppy, Bell said there are lots of other opportunities to get involved.

STEP@UCF will be fundraising and doing awareness training, as well as other types of events that everyone can be a part of. Interested students living on campus are especially encouraged to be a part of this on-campus opportunity as the Lake Claire student housing has set aside five apartments for puppy raising.

“There are many people who benefit from these dogs, and they all have such unique and amazing experiences,” Bell said. “This is what I’m passionate about, and I want to share that with other people.”

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Rachel Stuart is a News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSage or email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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