September 21, 2006

Fraternities Adopt Dogs for Companionship, Fun

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The classic image of frat boys as irresponsible, wild and crazy party animals, as seen popular movies such as in Animal House, may be due for a drastic change. A number of Cornell fraternity brothers have shown a more domestic side by raising dogs right in the fraternity house; many of these dog owners say the large number of people around seems to benefit the dogs. And the fraternity canines are not the only ones who benefit: the brothers themselves get a taste of home on campus from their adoring pooches.

One of the most striking examples of fraternity dog raising at Cornell is that of Chris Minnock ’07 of Psi Upsilon. Minnock raised a seeing-eye dog named Thomas for the Long Island-based Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc. in his fraternity during his junior year.

Minnock had the idea of adopting a seeing eye dog for a long time but decided to wait until he had secure housing to send in his application.
“I didn’t want to take on the responsibility not knowing where he’d end up,” Minnock said.

According to Minnock, the agency was worried at first, especially since he was the first client to raise a seeing eye dog on a college campus. The organization was quick to point out that a dog could very easily get “drunk or high.”

“They were worried that people might reinforce bad behaviors,” Minnock said.

But the Foundation for the Blind’s fears soon proved to be unfounded, Minnock said; living with a large group of people actually helped to socialize Thomas.

“Thomas was so used to being around so many people that he was never overly protective or aggressive toward me or anyone,” Minnock said.

The fraternity brothers received equal benefit from having Thomas on the scene.

“They all loved showing Thomas off to their friends,” Minnock said. “It was really a lot of fun.”

Though Minnock himself had the majority of the dog duties, which were enough to keep him up “all night” at first, all of the fraternity brothers participated in taking care of Thomas through the occasional walk or feeding or through playing with the dog to keep him active and engaged. According to Chris, having a loving puppy as a shared responsibility gave the brothers “a sense of family away from home.”

Though Minnock dropped Thomas off on Long Island last May, there are still a number of dogs living in Cornell fraternities. Minnock’s own Psi Upsilon is home to another dog, and Sigma Chi has a century old tradition of owning a St. Bernard. Dan Nolan ’09 is Sigma Chi’s elected “dog boy.” His charge is the lovable yet occasionally maladroit two-and-a-half year old Emmett.

Though Nolan is “more responsible for the little things, the stuff that nobody wants to do,” the entire house still participates in the dog’s upbringing, walking him when Nolan is at class and playing with him.

This is especially essential for a St. Bernard like Emmett, because, according to Nolan, “When [St. Bernards] are left alone for a long time, they get destructive. People coming around keeps Emmett’s attention.”

Nolan agrees with Minnock that having a dog in the house is “very homey. It’s almost like having a little brother.”

Emmett is also good for Sigma Chi’s publicity, Nolan said. During one of Sigma Chi’s major fund-raising events, Derby Days, the fraternity brothers bring Emmett all over campus to attract attention and donations to the house. People become more interested in the house this way because, Nolan said, “everyone loves dogs. A lot of people come out here [to Sigma Chi] just to see Emmett.”

But Emmett is not without a mischievous streak. According to Nolan and other house members like Kyle Lynch ’08, the St. Bernard stays up nearly all night and is constantly searching for roast beef. Emmett has learned how to open push doors and Lynch jokingly suspects that “[Emmett] is learning the code” and will soon be able to open even the keypad doors.

Ryan Hickey ’07, the owner of Psi Upsilon’s current dog, a one-and-a-half year old yellow lab named Brighton, agreed that having a dog in the house is “really an amazing thing.” But Hickey can see how keeping a dog in the house could be problematic.

“It wouldn’t be as fun if I didn’t train her well,” said Hickey, who kept Brighton at home for a summer for house breaking purposes before bringing her into the fraternity.

This is not always the case, as Hickey not so fondly remembers an unnamed dog who lived in the house and was less than well-trained.
“Everyone just gets to hate the dog,” Hickey said of such situations.

But because Brighton is well-trained and because she is a “hysterical dog,” having her around has done nothing but benefit the fraternity.

“She’s an attraction,” Hickey said. “People mention her when they mention Psi Upsilon.”

And she keeps the brothers entertained.

“She’ll pick up everything,” Hickey said. “She tried carrying a rake up the stairs, but she couldn’t do it because of the doors.”

Overall, Hickey and many fraternity brothers who keep a dog agree that it is a genuinely maturing experience.

“It’s cool to have a responsibility you can’t ignore,” Hickey said. And in return, the fraternity brothers “always have a friend to come back to.