Clova is doing quite well for herself these days. She’s got a very smart vest on, she recently won an international award for her job, and she’s currently surrounded by about two dozen university students all giving her adoring tummy rubs and scratches behind her ears. Yes, Clova is a nine-year-old collie, and she is certainly deserving of the title of ‘goodest girl’, as is Mia, who is also in training to be a search and rescue dog like her accomplished big sister. Their handler, Rod Stoddart, brings them into the Dog Walking Society’s weekly Dog Cuddling events, which have been happening these past two Tuesdays at the Union from 2 to 4 PM and are a godsend for bringing a bit of serotonin and snuggles to this cloudy Scottish January. Last Tuesday’s event, hosted in Sandy’s Bar, was much quieter than the crowd which eagerly packed into 601 the week before to say hello to Clova, Mia, Bowie, and Sindar (the latter two have Instagram accounts, add them up on @bowie_search_dog and @sindarthehusky). At the same time, I felt it was just as, if not more, pleasant to have a smaller group of people in the cozy space of Sandy’s, hanging out with Clova and Mia between lectures and meetings.
As Rod led Clova around the circle to say hello to each person there, I was busy stroking Mia on her feather-smooth forehead. According to Rod, Mia was kept tied to a table leg for two years before he had her, and two years on, she’s still a little shy, preferring to stay curled up with a few people in a corner rather than run and investigate the arrival of each new individual. She learned to open doors both ways in order to escape, but nowadays, she just opens doors to help Rod when he’s got his hands full carrying his groceries. Rod tells us that the dog cuddling events aren’t only great for us students, but they also help to give his dogs the social skills they need to be comfortable around people when doing their jobs – whether going to care homes or visiting veterans. They also give us students a great opportunity to socialise, as people chat about their own dogs at home while petting Clova and Mia.
The Dog Walking Society is doing something really wonderful with their weekly dog cuddling events, expanding from their usual dog walks on weekends to provide another set of socials that bring plenty of joy to the two-legged and four-legged St Andrews community alike. Delighted by the calm and friendly events in the union, I decided to join the society for a dog walk on East Sands later that week. The society hosts two walks on weekends, starting at noon on Saturday and Sunday in various locations across town from the beaches to local parks. Meeting the society in front of the Cheesy Toast Shack, I was partnered with Molly, an ideal dog for a first-time dog walker (but a lifelong dog lover), and the two of us made our way up to the coastal path on the blustery Saturday morning. There are obviously more humans than pups at the dog walks, so I would recommend either coming a few minutes before 12 or bringing along a few friends for an optimal experience. The view from the windswept cliffside where we paused before turning back on the hour-long walk was absolutely stunning, and I could see our beautiful little town nestled in a patch of sunlight and overlooking the sparkling North Sea, the tops of the St Salvator’s clock tower and St Rule’s Tower reaching over the hills in the distance.
Membership for the Dog Walking Society comes in at a very affordable £3, and as the success of their events indicate, it’s worth every penny to join what I certainly think is one of the university’s most welcoming societies. Many of the dogs who go on the walks are brought in by local residents, emphasising the importance of town-and-gown relations which the society puts at its forefront. The weekly dog walks are often hosted in collaboration with other university societies, so if a society that you’re already involved with is joining Dog Walking Society on one of their walks, why not take the opportunity to come and see what they’re all about, or drop by the union on a Tuesday to meet some of the dogs indoors? Now that midterm season is coming in with a vengeance, the ideal way to counteract your back-to-back lectures or long mornings in the library is to spend some quality time with some cute and wonderful dogs.