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The Dogs of Campus


Having a “ruff” day? 

Feel like you've been barking up the wrong tree?

Already tired of these doggone dog puns?

Brando, Gretel and Omega, WVU therapy dogs. BRANDO, GRETEL AND OMEGA/PHOTO BY SCOTT LITUCHY

Before you send us to the doghouse, dig further into this edition of “The List.” It’s cuddly, furry and bound to put a smile on your face. We’re taking a look at the dogs that roam campus.

Some are here to provide relief and therapy for faculty, staff and students in various colleges and departments. Others, like the crime-fighting canines with WVU Police, are here to sniff out potential dangers and keep campus safe. 

“Having dogs shows WVU’s commitment to wellness in all areas,” said Lindsay Parenti, director of Hearts of Gold, a nonprofit service dog training center in Morgantown that has provided dogs for campus. “It is also a result of research happening at WVU regarding human-animal interactions, a novel field in academia that is growing rapidly. 

“WVU is one of the only universities in the country to have a service dog training program where students learn how to train assistance dogs.”

Regardless of their intent, these dogs deserve a round of appaws. (OK. Now I’m done.) 



This 3-year-old great Pyrenees/Labrador mix is one of WVU’s newer therapy dogs. Ryder initially trained to become a service dog in the Hearts of Gold program, but was diagnosed with a heart murmur in 2016, thus disqualifying him from service dog duties. 

His friendly, gentle demeanor would not go to waste. In November 2016, he became the official therapy dog of the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design – and just in time for that stressful hallmark of every college student – finals. 

Ryder was adopted by Todd Petty, associate dean of academic affairs at Davis, and wife Tricia, assistant dean for student and enrollment services in the Reed College of Media. Ryder accompanies Todd to work every day and can usually be spotted lounging around the fourth floor of the Agricultural Sciences Building. 

Marlon Brando

PHOTO by Paige Nesbit

At the Statler College’s Engineering Learning Center, you might see an offer you can’t refuse. 

And that would be cuddling and/or petting Brando, a fluffy white Labradoodle and WVU’s “dogfather.” 

Born in Australia, Brando moved to North Carolina as a puppy and was 2 when he was donated to Hearts of Gold. After six weeks of training in 2014, Brando was assigned to Michelle Poland, academic success program coordinator for the Fundamentals of Engineering Program, in the Statler College. 

Poland spends much of her time advising freshmen at the Engineering Learning Center, where Brando is usually spotted. 

About Brando’s role, Poland said, in this 2015 story, that “engineering students have a tough schedule – combined with normal freshman stuff like homesickness, it makes for a very stressful environment. Students feel like every test is a final, and if we can take just some of the pressure off, it helps.”

Take a bite out of crime

Ginger/photo provided

WVU Police currently has four dogs patrolling campus. They are Ginger, 6, and Nina, 1, both golden retrievers; Allie, 6, a chocolate Lab; and Sierra, 5, a Czech Shepherd. 

Ginger, Nina and Alie specialize in chemical explosives detection while Sierra sniffs out narcotics. 

Nina/photo provided

The WVU Police K-9 unit was launched after 9/11 to identify chemical explosives and potential terroristic threats. Today you’ll see some of these canines at WVU sporting events and concerts. 

Lt. Joshua Cook oversees the K-9 unit and works with two of the dogs, Ginger and Nina. 

ALLIE/photo provided

“I love that Ginger and Nina are more than just bomb dogs,” Cook said. “They are happy, friendly and valuable members at work as well as at home with my 4-year-old son. They are wonderful companions and great ambassadors to our community.”

Sierra/photo provided

The dogs can detect approximately 19,000 different explosive combinations. Cook explained that only golden retrievers or Labrador retrievers are used for the explosives program because they are calm, friendly and approachable breeds. 



This white golden doodle is all business, especially when it comes to tug-of-war and sloppy kisses.

Vivian is another one of campus’ newest therapy dogs, joining the College of Business and Economics in summer 2016. She, too, was trained through Hearts of Gold, and her special touch stretches beyond the walls of the business school. 

Every month, Vivian visits patients at WVU Medicine Children’s. 

And last December, she sought the true meaning of the holiday season


Sasha photo provided

Even the Honors College has its own fuzzy mascot, Sasha, a Lab mix. 

Sasha was selected as a potential therapy dog from a Richmond, Va., shelter where Honors Dean Ken Blemings picked her up before enrolling her in a service dog training class at the Davis College. 

Sasha was taught obedience commands in addition to advanced tricks like turning on lights and opening doors. She’s served the Honors College since summer 2016. 

It’s not certain if she met the 3.7 high school GPA requirement, but with a mug like that, who cares?


PHOTO by Scott Lituchy

This dog has an important territory, the Carruth Center. 

It is there where students seek counseling and inspiration through trying times. And with a gentle, black and white Labradoodle wandering around, it tends to take the edge off for animal lovers. 

Gretel started greeting students, faculty and staff at the Carruth Center beginning in the summer of 2014. Her official handler is counselor Deb Beazley. More often than not, clients request Gretel sit in on a counseling session. 

“I have a two-person loveseat. The client will sit down, and I will say ‘on,’ and Gretel will get up and lay on their lap. People just love to pet her while we talk,” Beazley said.


photo provided

Omega is the dog with the real scoop. 

Stationed at the Reed College of Media, Omega greets budding journalists in the classrooms and hallways of Martin Hall. 

A tall, fit black poodle, Omega is handled by Diana Martinelli, associate dean and professor at the Reed College. 

“Kids who miss home will come in my office and say ‘I miss my dog so much,’ and they can walk her around,” Martinelli said. “Their faces? They just smile. You can see that it’s just a little piece of home for them and makes them more comfortable.”


photo provided

Lucas is a yellow Labradoodle who joined the Health Sciences Center as a certified visitation dog in 2017. 

Lucas was fostered by Erin Barthelmess, a School of Pharmacy student, before making the transition to his new handlers, Kim Helmick and Cassandra Stacy. He was provided by the Hearts of Gold organization and received his training in WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. He will split his time between the health science’s vice president’s office and the School of Medicine’s M.D. program student services office.

For more on this adorable little pooch, check out this Facebook video

You can follow many of these dogs on Twitter, if you're into conversing with canines electronically: Ryder, Marlon Brando, Vivian, Sasha and  Omega
We’re listening. You are our greatest voice. So use it. Use this form to send us story ideas, letters to the editor, questions for a future guest on Ask an Expert, memories for the Flashback section or tales for the Alumni Diary.

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