On a campus of about 10,000 people, what’s something that can bring students and university faculty of all ages and areas of study together? The answer is simple: if it walks on four legs (with possibly a few exceptions) and barks or meows (or makes whatever sound a hedgehog makes), you’ve got yourself an event that will bring 300+ diverse students and faculty together in a matter of 2 hours.
On February 18, 2023, the Kirby Program Board at the University of Minnesota Duluth hosted
one of its monthly events in what is colloquially known as the “living room” of campus–the Kirby Student Center. But in this living room, animals are allowed to sit on the furniture–so long as there’s a towel down and a basket full of lint rollers within reach.
Each fall and spring semester, community members in the Northland as well as Animal Allies
volunteers gather monthly at the university and bring their own pets or shelter and rescue
animals for students to spend time with. The event, called PAWS (Pet Away Worry and Stress), draws in animal-loving students who are speed-walking to their next class, taking a much-needed study break, or perhaps hear an uncharacteristic “bark” echoing down the hall next to the student center.
Students studying a range of subjects–from Biology, Psychology, and Communication to
Mechanical Engineering–flock to PAWS as soon as they see the signs going up in the Kirby
Student Center. Many of these students are undergraduates adjusting to a life away from home for the first time–and, often, they’re forced to be separated from their beloved pets for weeks or months at a time. At PAWS, just the sight of a dog, cat, or hedgehog is enough to bring a smile to the face of even the most stressed student.
Pet Away Worry and Stress started with Pat Castellano, a retired Animal Allies Humane
Educator who currently works with the Hedgehog Welfare Society. She is also the only certified hedgehog foster in Minnesota. Pat says that when she received a request from Lake Superior College to bring animals to the campus, two years later, UMD wanted to get their paws on the PAWS action as well.
When Pat and her crew first agreed to bring animals to UMD, the animals were not allowed
inside the building. For this reason, Pat and 4 other volunteers brought their 9 dogs to the
outdoor Kirby Terrace–and, much to their surprise, 1,700 students attended the event within a 2-hour window. Now that the event occurs monthly at the university, a much more manageable number of students attend.
Dan and Jan Anderson, veteran volunteers at Animal Allies and adopters of two Animal Allies alumni, Monte and Josie (whom Dan refers to as “ambassa-dogs” for the shelter), have
attended a handful of PAWS events at UMD. They have also brought their animals to other public spaces in the community such as the University of Wisconsin Superior, Duluth East High School, some local community colleges, and four different nursing homes. Dan, who grew up on a dairy farm with dogs, has been exposed to dogs for most of his life. He
says that the key to being a dog buddy volunteer for some of the more difficult dogs that arrive at Animal Allies is to be fearless. “I have no fear in my heart,” Dan said.
As volunteer trainers in the past, Dan and Jan have experience training new volunteers to
properly care for the dogs during their stay at Animal Allies. Dan says that the 10 years he
served as a volunteer at the adoption center were “10 of the best years of [his] life.” Day after day, any morning crabbiness he had “just disappear[ed]” when he arrived at an 8:00 a.m. shift to attend to the dogs in their kennels.
PAWS has a similar effect on students who spend just a few minutes petting and holding the
animals when they are on campus. Notably, Dan remarked that most of the new volunteers he has recruited for Animal Allies have been UMD PAWS attendees.
Former Animal Allies Board President, Candy Madich, says that her favorite thing about PAWS is the goodwill that is created between the students and the animals. And, good news–YOU can be an essential part of this goodwill!
For more information about how to become a volunteer at Animal Allies, visit
https://www.animalallies.net/volunteer. You may also like the UMD PAWS Facebook page to
keep up-to-date on when more furry friends will be coming to campus and look at photos of
students interacting with the animals!