October 2, 2018
Dean's note: Emma was one of the first people I met when I became Dean last year. I was immediately struck by how deftly she incorporates all of the things we value at Pitt Honors — academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, and working for the public good.
After raising her first service dog, Emma Oaks wanted to bring that powerful experience to others on campus.
Now, Pitt has its very own litter of 4 service pups in training. Not only is Emma is raising Aiden, a black lab, but she's also founded the campus club Perfect Fit Canines Campus Scholars to bring together volunteers and support for the dogs.
Why did you want to do this?
"It’s not just because I love dogs. I care about people, and I want them to be able to live their fullest life. For people with PTSD and anxiety, I’ve seen how much a service dog can change their lives and the way that they can access the world.”
How does raising Aiden affect your life?
“Having a dog around helps with everything. They’re very emotionally in-tune. Having him to motivate me to be the best me so I can take care of him has been really helpful.”
“A lot of what I’ve learned is patience. In analytical chemistry, too, I’ve learned nothing works like it should. Patience has helped me be a good scientist, a good dog trainer, and a good student.”
What’s the biggest challenge?
“When he’s struggling with something, the only way to get over it is to do it more. But as long as I know it’s only an emotional barrier, I just have to go through it with him.”
“It’s hard sometimes. But I’ve never wanted something more. So I’m not giving up.”
Do you think Aiden will be a good service dog?
“I know Aiden is going to be a good service dog. When I have panic attacks, he jumps onto my lap and licks my head and face until I’m ok. I didn’t teach him how to do that. He helps a lot.”
“It’s heartbreaking to think about him leaving. He’s been my constant. But I’m also really looking forward to looking his person in the eyes and saying, ‘Here you go, I did this for you.’ ”
"It’s gonna hurt so bad, but I can’t wait."
» Learn more about Perfect Fit Canines Campus Scholars club at Pitt.
Follow Aiden’s journey from Pitt pup to service pro on Instagram: @Aiden_the_service_pup.