Every semester, Millersville University (MU) professor Theotis Braddy challenges his students to consider how they could improve the lives of people with disabilities. One of his spring 2016 students, Brian Kirn, took that challenge to heart and began volunteering as a puppy raiser through Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD) as a result. Neither the student nor the professor could have anticipated at the time that the first service dog Kirn raised would go on to train with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

“I ask students to be intentional because when they do, they actually see that their actions can make a difference,” explains Braddy. “Brian saw that right away. He is a very genuine young man who cares about making a difference.”

Despite his busy schedule as a full-time student at MU, Kirn applied as a service animal raiser and was matched with a Labrador Retriever named Martin. He was responsible for an hour of daily training, mandatory outings with SSD and constant work on proper behaviors and manners. The canine quickly became a normal part of the Kirn’s life, by joining him in class, on dates and at work.

“At first it was hard balancing my role as a resident assistant with raising a service dog, but I quickly made it work by integrating Martin in my position,” says the now-senior mathematics major. “Martin was great because he loved to work and was always eager to learn more.”

Martin joined Kirn while on duty at his desk, during hall meetings, on building tours and for other residential activities. The canine quickly became a beloved member of the community in the South Village.

During Martin’s final training, several representatives from the CIA visited the area and selected Kirn’s trainee for further, specialized training. After a bittersweet farewell to the CIA-bound Martin, Kirn has since co-raised another service dog through the SSD and hopes to raise a third this summer. He graduated on May 12 from Millersville University with a degree in mathematics.

“Raising a service dog is the journey of a lifetime that you will never forget,” Kirn says. “It is also a great feeling knowing that you are doing something that will give someone with a disability their independence.”

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