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How Reese DeHaven made training dogs a family tradition

Reese DeHaven, a freshman education major at University of Kentucky, has been around dogs her whole life. Her dad, Rob, has been training dogs for 23 years.

“I mean, he’s been training dogs for as long as I can remember,” DeHaven said.

Reese recalled that, at times, there would be nearly 30 dogs in her backyard.

“Sometimes, it felt like a zoo,” she said.

It may come as no shock that now Reese is primary handler for 4 Paws for Ability. Her foster, a 5-month-old lab-golden retriever-Newfoundland mix named Stevie, is the first dog she has fostered with the program. But Reese didn’t know she always wanted to train dogs like her dad.

“Becoming a primary (handler) was a spur of the moment choice, really,” DeHaven said.

Reese made that choice after meeting freshman Hannah Lewis, another primary handler with 4 Paws for Ability with whom she had a class. Hannah now fosters Stevie’s 5-month-old brother, Elton.

“I met with Hannah one day and she told me about the program and then I filled out the application (to be a primary handler) that night,” DeHaven said.

But the road to becoming a dog trainer for DeHaven wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed.

“When I was younger, a dog actually bit me in my face,” DeHaven said, pointing to a small scar on the corner of the right side of her face. “I would always get scared when dogs would jump up on me after that. Like, I would have to go inside and get away from a dog if it jumped on me.”

Still, though, DeHaven loved dogs and wanted to be a part of something bigger than herself on campus.

“I sat on the waiting list to receive a foster for like three weeks before I ended up getting an email about Stevie,” she said.

Stevie, named after music legend Stevie Wonder, was the only dog left in his litter without a primary handler assigned to him. DeHaven made the choice to email 4 Paws about potentially having him assigned to be her foster.

“I just told them ‘Hey I would really be interested in fostering Stevie,’” she said. “My mom told me a squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

At first, DeHaven was told that Stevie already was assigned a different primary handler, and since she was on the waiting list, it would only be a matter of time before she would be contacted about a different dog to foster. But, a few days later, 4 Paws contacted her again.

“Then they emailed me a few days later and said that Stevie’s original primary (handler) didn’t work out and that I would be able to pick him up from 4 Paws that week,” DeHaven said.

So, she drove five hours round trip to Xenia, Ohio to pick up Stevie from 4 Paws. She loaded him, his food, his crate and food for other dogs in the program into her car and started her training journey with him.

“He just slept the whole way back,” she said. “He’s just so well behaved.”

Over roughly the next year, Stevie will learn the basics of being a service dog from DeHaven. He will be evaluated once as a puppy and again to determine if he is ready to enter advanced training. In addition to this, DeHaven fills out a bi-monthly form regarding Stevie’s advancements in his training.

“Once he gets to advanced training he will really learn how to be a service dog specifically,” DeHaven said. “That will probably be around a year from now.”

Natalie Sheils, a secondary handler (or sitter) for 4 Paws commented on how much she adored Stevie and DeHaven.

“He’s just such a good dog. Reese does a really amazing job with him too,” she said. “I just love them both.”


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