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March is Student Appreciation Month at WGU. The Night Owl community is full of amazing students, alumni, and prospective students dedicated to jobs, families, volunteer work, hobbies—and, on top of it all, furthering their education. This month, we're sharing a few stories of spectacular Night Owls who are contributing to their communities.
Janelle Fletcher, of Gaylord, Michigan, has three passions in life: training dogs, helping people, and computers.
And with WGU, she hopes she's found a way to bring all those passions together as her life's work.
"I got into training dogs when I was 17 or 18 years old, but the idea of training therapy dogs really interested me," she said. "It was more than the idea of training them to sit or get down—you were training them to do a job, to have a purpose."
Janelle has trained more than 800 dogs over the past 11 years to help people in need—including people with glucose or allergy detection needs, mobility limitations, seizure alert needs, and autism.
She's also a military veteran and, in recent years, has done a lot of training for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or other need for a furry service companion.
She's currently working toward her B.S. in IT–Network Administration, and she plans to pursue her B.S. in Health Informatics degree next. These degrees, she hopes, will help her merge her passions into hospital work, where she can provide IT support as well as work with therapy dogs for the patients.
"I've always been a computer geek," she said. "If I can find a way to put two things I love together, I'm all about that."
Janelle says a well-trained service dog can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, and "no one can actually afford that, especially the people who need them most."
Training dogs at an affordable price is critical to her. For veterans, in fact, she'll train a dog free of charge.
All this work, of course, keeps Janelle busy—and so do her 10-month-old son and the three "fur-bearing children" in her home. She's had clients call her at 2 a.m., saying, "my dog ate this!" or "my dog's having a problem with that!' Most of the time, they'll call me before their veterinarians."
She credits WGU with enabling her to balance all of this along with an online degree program that will help her achieve her dreams.
"With random things like that, I have to drop everything and help a client. Being able to have the flexibility, and especially the competency-based education approach, the classes are easy to manage on my time—oh, you have no idea how important it is to have the freedom to work on my own time!"
The hard work, of course, is all worth it when she sees her passion making a real difference in people's lives.
"It's an amazing feeling to help someone else with a dog to improve their life, and that should be the goal of any type of animal trainer," she said. "Not only do you improve the pet parents' quality of life, but also the dogs'. I love my therapy dogs that I have trained and all my trainees are like furry little step children. I love hearing about their hospital visits. I have dogs in hospitals, assisted-living facilities, and Ronald McDonald houses in four states. My own son was in the hospital and one of our fantastic therapy dogs came in to visit us while we were there, so I got to experience not only the happiness from knowing a dog I trained was able to help another but I got to feel the same way those parents and children did when they see a dog coming into their room to say hello. I love that I helped give that feeling to others."
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