Princeton Profiles: Camden Olson, training service dogs to change lives

March 27, 2017 noon
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Camden Olson didn't have a pet dog growing up, but when she was 7 years old, she realized her passion for training service dogs. The sophomore ecology and evolutionary biology major wants to dedicate her career to helping those with disabilities by raising and training service dogs.

"My career path is that I want to work with service dogs, to be able to communicate with an animal and to teach that animal to literally save someone's life on a regular basis," said Olson, who is also receiving a certificate in cognitive science. "When I work with a dog, I just feel like I have a purpose."

Before starting her first year at Princeton, Olson took a gap year in Maine where she raised her first guide dog, Derby.

"I hadn't quite had the time yet and the experience to fully devote to training and what I wanted to do in terms of training service dogs, and so my gap year was my opportunity to be able to do that," Olson said.

Since Olson's gap year, Derby has been placed in California with someone in need of a guide dog.

"Working with a dog, you know that dog is going to do so much good for someone else," Olson said. "Being able to ... have that impact on other people is incredible."

In addition to her academics and extracurricular activities on campus, Olson assists local residents who are fostering service dogs in training. Olson is responsible for helping socialize the young dogs and teaching basic obedience commands. Two of the dogs she is working with are Labrador retrievers, Danny and Snoopy.

Olson plans to raise and train another service dog starting this summer, using this next experience as groundwork for her senior thesis. Olson will train the animal as a diabetic alert dog that can alert diabetic owners in advance of low or high blood sugar events before they become dangerous. In addition, she plans to bring the dog into middle school classrooms to research its effect on student concentration and behavior in class.

"What I love is the training as much as I love the dogs, and you work together with a dog to succeed as a team," Olson said. "I am just so passionate about it — the effect that the dogs have on people, the feeling that I get when training — and just all of it is just so incredible to me that it's really hard to put into words. It really leaves me speechless."