MU baseball supports service dog training

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COLUMBIA - Members of the Missouri baseball team played ball Wednesday with unconventional teammates.

The players met up to toss a ball around to three of the newest puppies from local organization Puppies with Purpose. This season each strikeout team pitchers have will raise money for the organization to train service dogs. The initiative, dubbed "K's for K9's," will allow fans to pledge a donation amount to be paid per strikeout during the 2015 season.

Head Coach Tim Jamieson said he chose to support the organization because he is a dog lover.

"I've read more and more about dogs and actually researched whether or not there were places in Missouri that train dogs for this purpose and ironically find out that there's one in Columbia and one on Mizzou's campus. So it seemed like it was a really good fit and I introduced it to our players and they are really excited about it."

Puppies with Purpose Director and Veterinarian Terriann Tucker-Warhover said initiatives like "K's for K'9's" keep her program running.

"The average cost to raise a dog nationally runs between 15 and $30,000," Tucker-Warhover said. "The thing that's most important for us is that C.H.A.M.P. does not charge for the service dogs. So they give them free so basically we rely 100 percent on donations and grants."

Organizations like Puppies with Purpose also face a pressing demand for service animals.

"You're looking at three to five years, seven years waiting list for most individuals now," Tucker-Warhover said. "A lot of people just can't wait that long."

Morgan Burkhardt has a spinal fusion. Her service dog, Patty, helps her anxiety and from falling.

"One of the biggest misconceptions is that service dogs are only for people who have visual impairments," Burkhardt said. "I get a lot of questions of am I blind and have people waive their hand infront of my face."

MU Professor of Veterinary Medicine Rebecca Johnson said another misconception people have about service dogs is that they can be treated like regular dogs in public.

"When service dogs have their vest or harness on don't distract them," Johnson said. "It impedes the independence of the person it could hurt the dog's training if you do, so you should treat them like they're working." 

The baseball team is off to its best start in decades. The Tigers have already raised thousands of dollars for the organization.