Rowan grad student commencing with Zeus

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Zeus is graduating from Rowan University on May 14.

Zeus is graduating from Rowan University on May 14.

No, not that Zeus.

In this case, the Rowan “grad” is a 14-month-old black Labrador/golden retriever mix puppy, who will be outfitted in a cap, gown and bow tie.

The dapper canine also will be at the end of a leash held by Tomasita Jallad, an actual grad student who has been raising Zeus for The Seeing Eye, Inc., the world’s oldest guide dog school.

Jallad, 24, a higher education administration major, is the graduate leader of Rowan University Forward to Freedom (RUFF), a student volunteer organization that raises puppies for The Seeing Eye.

Through RUFF, Rowan students receive a specially bred seven-week-old puppy to raise until it turns 15 months old — at which time the puppy is returned to The Seeing Eye for four months of formal harness training. RUFF members focus on obedience training and familiarizing puppies with crowds and other public environments.

Now on her fifth puppy, Jallad feels the benefits of the program outweigh the pain of giving up the puppies at the end of their training at RUFF.

“I love it,” stated Jallad with tears in her eyes. “It’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done as a college student.”

Jallad, a graduate assistant for Rowan University Housing, began her work with RUFF five years ago as a junior, when her sophomore roommates introduced her to the program. Since then, she learned to balance school with raising puppies, a skill she claimed has become “second nature” to her and something all puppy raisers must acquire.

“We have our own schedules and our puppy schedules,” Jallad said. “It’s a job.”

Jallad’s experience with the puppies proved both challenging and rewarding. She said her biggest challenge was her fourth puppy, Quasar, who was the brunt of many inside jokes. Happily, he overcame his hyper nature and now guides a woman in North Carolina.

“It was so rewarding to have him pass (graduate),” Jallad said. “He was definitely my favorite, but he was a challenge.”

Although the puppies work for a living, Jallad stressed they love what they do. She also said a common misconception is the puppies work all the time and do not play. Jallad said they know how to separate work time from playtime by the simple removal of their work vest. When the vest comes off, they know it’s time to play. When Zeus’ vest comes off, he loves to cuddle, fetch his stuffed chicken, have his tummy rubbed and sleep in his crate with the door open. Jallad and other puppy raisers even arrange “play dates” for their puppies.

When Zeus and the other Seeing Eye puppies graduate from RUFF and The Seeing Eye, Inc., they get to guide their formal Seeing Eye trainers in a parade through Morristown. Jallad and her fellow student trainers only get to watch from afar, but always feel a sense of accomplishment as their graduating puppies march by.

“It’s so obvious they (the puppies) really love it,” said Jallad about prior parades.

After Jallad graduates with both her master’s degree and a substance abuse coordinator certificate in May, she plans to continue her work with The Seeing Eye, Inc. She said one does not have to be a student to participate, as Seeing Eye chapters are located throughout various counties inside and outside of New Jersey, and they recruit volunteers.

Jallad is a 2002 graduate of Mount Olive High School. She resides in Mount Olive, N.J. with her parents.

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