Saint Mary’s faculty and staff discuss Dulce, Moe, Napoleon, Bella, Boomer and RBG: the dogs who bring loyalty and love to campus
Marirose Osborne | Tuesday, November 19, 2019
College life can be stressful. However, there are ways to turn a rough time into a ruff time with the various dogs who come to Saint Mary’s to hang out on campus.
The Saint Mary’s costume shop is often full of dogs. Melissa Bialko, a professional specialist in costume design theatre, has eight dogs. Frequent canine visitors include Dulce, Moe and Napoleon. Bialko worked doggedly to create a schedule for her canines. She brings in the dogs on a rotating basis and shares their adventures on the Dogs of the Saint Mary’s Costume Shop Instagram page.
“It started in around 2013,” Bialko said. “I began to bring Bella, my Saint Bernard, because in the theater we work long and erratic hours especially for tech week. It made the experience more enjoyable and more relaxing for me and for the students.”
Bialko said she wanted to create a welcoming environment for students in the costume shop.
“We have a lot of students that visit the costume shop just for the dogs,” she said. “I keep tea and cocoa here and I just want everyone to know they are always welcome.”
The Office of Student Involvement at Saint Mary’s has a dog as well. Boomer is a four-year-old Sheltie who likes to howl up on the second floor of the student center, owner Tena Johnson, the coordinator of student organizations at Saint Mary’s, said.
Johnson said students make an effort to visit Boomer, who in turn, gives them comfort.
“Boomer has a huge impact,” she said. “He can sense when students are upset or have emotional issues, and he’s always ready to help. They love him. We have regulars that come in to visit him.”
Terri Russ, associate professor of communication studies, is another advocate for dogs on campus. Russ often brings her maltese-poodle mix, RBG, short for “The Notorious Little Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” to her office in the basement of Moreau.
RBG will be three years old Dec. 4, and, Russ said, RBG is currently in training to become an officially licensed therapy dog.
“She’s naturally social and has a natural empathy,” Russ said of RBG. “She’s really good at finding students who are stressed. I take her to class with me, which you would think would be a disruption, but it’s really not. She just goes around and jumps on people’s laps and gets petted, you know, walks around.”
Russ started bringing RBG to campus in 2017.
“I had her from when she was a really tiny puppy,” she said. “She was only five pounds then. She had been abandoned early so she had abandonment issues. So she came in on and off. She was so small that I could zip her inside my coat and carry her around this time of year.”
Russ also said there are advantages to having a dog in the classroom.
“My way of teaching is very dialogic,” Russ said. “I rarely lecture, I do a lot of hands on learning, a lot of flipped classroom learning. And so she helps with that. She helps humanize me as more than just a professor who’s in charge of the grade.”
Russ says the increased openness to dogs on campus has been around for the past couple of years.
“A few years ago, we had dog friendly residences and we also had a president who had her dog on campus, so we became a more dog friendly campus,” Russ said.
Russ also acknowledged the importance of her department’s openness to canine companions.
“I think in our department, we’re a very pet friendly department so we’ve always had dogs in and out of here the whole time I’ve been at Saint Mary’s,” she said.