Redefining the Classroom

Atlas is a leader dog with a cause

Posted: December 13th, 2011

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A DYNAMIC DUO – Lake Superior State University athletic training student Katia Locke and her leader dog in training, Atlas, pose with steel water bottles being sold to benefit LSSU's Student Athletic Training Association and the Leaderdog for the Blind Foundation. More than 200 of the $10 bottles are on sale at the LSSU athletic training department while supplies last. Locke is training Atlas until spring, when the dog gets matched to a visually impaired person for further training. (LSSU/John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.

By Jeanna Radzinski/LSSU PR Intern Videographer

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Lake Superior State University's Student Athletic Training Association (SATA) has come up with a new fundraiser idea, thanks to one special guy: Atlas, a leader dog in training for the blind that has been winning the hearts and minds of most everyone on campus.

Atlas is serving as campus poster boy for the Leaderdog for the Blind Foundation, which is the organization behind his matriculation with puppy trainer and athletic training student Katia Locke. SATA students are selling metal water bottles for $10 each to benefit both their organization as well as the Leaderdogs for the Blind Foundation.

"The dog that Katia has for this year is Atlas," says athletic training professor Joe Susi. "He became a part of our family last March when the Leaderdog organization gave him to Katia for training."

Locke was assigned Atlas when he was just a couple of months old. Her job as volunteer trainer is to socialize and get the dog used to accepting commands in somewhat distracting social settings. Come spring, Atlas will be matched with a visually impaired person for his next step in training.

This fundraiser is different than SATA is used to doing. For the past three years, they have done fundraisers for breast cancer awareness. However, this year they wanted to switch it up. Enter Atlas.

SATA president Mike McPherson says Atlas was a missing piece that breathed new life into old approaches to a fundraiser. "I think it's something cool, it's not something very mainstream," he says. "So it's fun that we have a different fundraiser, and it's obviously a worthwhile cause."

Atlas, an 11-month-old German Shepherd, goes practically everywhere with Locke and has a positive effect on all of the students in Locke's classes. Professor Susi still chuckles about the pup's "big old ears, and awfully big paws" which, as the days go by, Atlas grows into bit by bit.

As everyone seems to be a fan of Atlas, no one is as appreciative of this fundraiser than his biggest fan, and trainer, Katia Locke.

"It means a lot to me, it obviously means that everyone supports what I am doing," Locke says. "All of my professors have been really supportive of me bringing Atlas to class and all the students love him."

The metal water bottles can be bought at the athletic training laboratory in Norris Center room 1081, located off the first floor main hallway and just across from Norris's main locker rooms. Not heading by the gym? Keep an eye out for flyers around LSSU's campus that have email addresses of athletic training students in charge of the fundraiser. Or reserve a bottle by e-mailing Susi at

Run a web search for "Lake State athletic training" to learn more about that program of study at Lake State.

Lake Superior State University is located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, along the U.S./Canada international border. With an enrollment of about 3,000 students, LSSU offers an undergraduate experience that features small classes, individual attention and faculty/student research opportunities that are not always readily available at larger schools. LSSU students choose from a blend of liberal and technical studies in more than 40 areas. Find out more at


CONTACTS: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; Prof. Joe Susi, e-mail, 635-2161.