A need breed of classroom relations

Deborah Hirsch

Feeling heartsick for Rover?

The abundant squirrels on campus just don’t fill the void of the family dog?

Have no worries, because a few Northwestern professors are more than happy to share stories, pictures or even visits with their canine companions.

“I think just having a dog around occasionally is good fun,” said political science Prof. Jerry Goldman. “It’s comforting for many students who are fond of pets.”

Goldman’s students know all about his past and present flat-coated retrievers from anecdotes they hear in class and photos on the professor’s Web page.

“It reminds students of their own dogs, makes them think positively about their experiences with their dogs and home and family,” he said. “It’s also an icebreaker. I become more approachable because I have the dog.”

Although he avoids taking his pet to NU regularly in order not to bother students with allergies, Goldman said he usually brings one-and-a-half-year-old Jack for the last class of American Government and Politics. The dog wears a red, white and blue bandana and Goldman dons a matching patriotic tie. Jack even performs a few tricks before sniffing out whatever crumbs are left on the floor.

“You know, when they say never share the stage with an animal, that’s true,” Goldman said.

Every Halloween Goldman and his wife have costumed their dogs as anything from Native Americans to Russian babushkas. The couple then sends greeting cards with pictures of the pooches to about 200 friends around the world.

While German Prof. Franziska Lys’s Burmese mountain dog, Grindel, may not perform tricks in costume, she will obey commands in English, German and even Swiss German.

“I always tell my students that if she can learn three languages, they should be able to, too,” she said. “It’s good to integrate her and make the class more humoristic.”

Lys said hand signals for training commands might have helped Grindel recognize the accompanying verbal cues in multiple languages.

“I never thought about training a dog in two languages,” she said. “It’s probably just because I wasn’t very consistent at the beginning when we went to puppy school. Sometimes the Swiss German would pop out. It’s interesting to see that she reacts to it.”

Lys traveled all the way to Switzerland five years ago to pick out her dog. Similar to a St. Bernard, the Burmese mountain breed are very large, good-natured dogs with long hair.

Grindel visits NU occasionally on weekends but usually stays in her owner’s office. Twice she watched evening film presentations with Lys’ students.

“It was actually very cute because she went from student to student trying to get popcorn,” Lys said.

For classics Prof. Dan Garrison’s Otterhound, Twicce, going to school is a daily event. Garrison has brought his dogs to work with him every day for almost 30 years out of the total 36 he has been teaching at NU.

“I just thought leaving a dog all alone in a locked house was kind of dumb,” he said. “Dogs are social animals – they like to hang out with other beings. I think it’s great for dogs to go to work. It makes the work environment more like the real world and less like a factory.”

And while Twicce does come to campus every day, she typically spends most of her time calmly lounging in Garrison’s office.

“I’ve never met a dog who thought my classes were worth listening to,” he said.

Bringing a dog to work is technically against university policy, but Garrison said he never asked about it and never had many problems. After one instance when University Police confronted him, about 100 students and staff in Kresge signed a petition to allow the dog back into the building.

“One of the reasons I got this kind of dog is they’re very quiet, very low energy inside,” Garrison said. “A less threatening dog you cannot imagine. She looks like a rug.”

In her almost 8 years, Twicce has been pictured twice for articles in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and has appeared live on television during a campus animal-rights demonstration a few years ago. Garrison said he and Twicce had nothing to do with the protest besides passing by on the way home from work.

“It was like an ambush,” he said. “The irony of being a dog owner on campus is everyone knows the dog, but you’re just the person on the other end of the leash.”

Garrison said he often finds students who miss their dogs playing with Twicce on his office floor.

“People will come to see the dog,” he said. “Dogs love work and people like dogs who go to work.” nyou