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New friends at CSU... of the canine variety

October 26, 2009
By Melinda Swenson

What do CSU students Michelle Reynoso and Malia Carr have in common? They both miss their family dogs! Reynoso (from Mexico) has several dogs back home, including a Giant Schnauzer. Carr (from Washington State) has one, a chocolate Lab named Duke. Thanks to the Dog Lovers First Year Mentoring Group, they have plenty of new canine friends to help fill the gap between visits back home.


Happy pandemonium

Happy pandemonium is rampant on a Thursday night when the Dog Lover’s First Year Mentoring Group meets at the Spring Canyon dog park in west Fort Collins.

CSU students who miss their dogs back home are gathering with volunteers in the waning daylight in what resembles a huge sandpit against the backdrop of Horsetooth’s Hogback.

A woman from Safe Harbor Lab Rescue brings a three-legged lab named Spree into the park in a stroller.

Jody Donovan, associate dean of students, is here with her boxer Mia, who stands back and looks on regally at the goings-on. Ginger Morehouse from Alumni Relations, brings her golden doodle Roxy into the park and removes her leash. 

Splash dogs

The dogs have discovered a pond in the park and begin hurling themselves in and out of the water. The students laugh and try to avoid head-on collisions with the wet dogs. 


The dogs rush from one person to the next as if in a game of “Touch, you’re it!”—nuzzling pant legs and leaving wet impressions. The saying, “The most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog,” comes to mind.

Roxy the golden doodle writhes with joy, leaps in the air, and plants a kiss on CSU student Michelle Reynoso.

“My family has eight dogs,” says Michelle, who left her coastal town of Veracruz, Mexico this fall to study zoology at CSU. “Most of them were rescue dogs. When I was home I’d take three of them to the beach every day.”

Student Malia Carr takes the face of a large, calm dog in her hands and blows him a kiss. “I’m from a small town in Washington State,” she says. “I came here to study equine sciences… and I really miss my dog Duke back home. He’s a chocolate lab.” 

Getting our dog fix

The idea for the Dog Lovers Mentoring Group came to Donovan, who is executive director of Parent and Family Programs in Student Affairs, when she was interacting with parents and families during Preview Orientation.

The issue of homesickness and missing pets kept replaying. It was huge.
-- Jody Donovan, associate dean of students

“The issue of homesickness and missing pets kept replaying. It was huge,” says Donovan. “Plus, I’m a big dog lover myself. Why not a dog lover’s group? We could all get a dog fix every week!

“At our first meeting, the students introduced themselves and explained why they joined—they all had dogs at home, many want to be veterinarians, many are from out-of-state and felt this group will help in their adjustment.”  

Imaginative twist on mentoring groups

Chelsie Taresh, a fifth-year sociology major and the peer mentor for the Dog Lovers group, is at the dog park tonight. She is open and attentive as she stands at the edge of the pond, chatting with a couple of students and laughing with them at the shenanigans of the dogs.

“I was involved in a peer mentoring program in Oregon,” Taresh says. “CSU’s peer mentoring programs are similar to ones at other universities in that you have one peer mentor and one faculty advisor—and students are free to pick a topic or activity they’re interested in.

“A lot of programs center around physical activities, professional development, or educational events, but this one really focuses on offering students something that helps them adjust and feel at home at CSU.” 

Dogs help spark friendships

As the students stroll around the park and discuss whether they should take the dogs for a short hike up onto the Hogback, it’s obvious that their mutual love of dogs and the dogs themselves are sparking connections and friendships. 

"None of it would be possible without the community’s involvement," says Donovan of the Dog Lovers Group. “Some community folks found out about the dog group and now we’ve got shelters, dog clubs, and dog businesses showing up to our events, bringing more dogs, dog treats, and generally interacting with the students through the dogs,” she says.

“Chelsie plays a huge role in building relationships with the students,” Donovan says. “She serves as a resource and role model and supports them in their transition to CSU.”

Mitigating mayhem

According to Donovan, the Dog Lover Group meetings are well attended, all-out fun, and sometimes borderline crazy.

“We’ve had quite a response from students,” says Donovan. “When we hold Dog Nights, the group grows—in September we had an event in Edwards Hall and we had 27 dogs and 170 students, faculty, community members, and dog owners show up!”

Mitigating mayhem is something Donovan has become quite a pro at. “It includes having lots of dog treats, blocking off the area so the dogs don’t run away, keeping them on a leash if we’re outside, having separate areas for big and little dogs, and having lots of dog bowls for water so they don’t get possessive.” 

Dog Lovers meetings

The Dog Lovers Mentoring Group meets every week on Thursdays from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Please e-mail Jody Donovan at if you’d like to: 

  •  Volunteer a dog and/or your time to the Dog Lovers First Year Mentoring Group
  •  Find out the location of the next meeting

Meetings during the remainder of this semester will include field trips to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, to the Canine Learning Center, and to a dog biscuit bakery where students will bake dog treats for their pets back home.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

        -- Roger Caras