Fall 2017 Corps Review | Back
By Cadet LeeAnn Jones ‘19
After the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets’ last formation of the 2016-17 school year, Growley II (call sign “Tank”) stared patiently at his cadet handler, waiting for his next command.
“People have talked about bringing a dog into the Corps for quite some time. Someone tried back in the ’90s but it just didn’t work out, but I figured I’d give it a go,” said Zackary Sever ’17, the cadet who proposed the Corps’ canine ambassador program.
There is a legend in Corps history that, during the Depression, the commandant of cadets owned a dog named Growley. Cadets would sacrifice scraps from their breakfast to feed the dog.
Years later, another Growley has found a home within the Corps.
This Growley was thought up by cadets from Echo Company in February 2016 who were looking to address morale issues in the Corps. Sever took their idea and helped make it a reality.
The program is built off the precedent set by Texas A&M University, which has had a canine ambassador named Reveille since 1931.
With the help of the university’s legal department and Col. Patience Larkin ‘87, the Corps’ alumni director, Sever put together a detailed concept for the program for Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, the commandant of cadets.
Sever was ecstatic when the commandant agreed.
“Over the summer I wrote 48 pages worth of rules and regulations for the program,” Sever said.
The dog came in the form of an English Labrador retriever named Tank, bred by CiaoBella Retrievers in Troutville, Virginia. The breeder supports service dog organizations by donating puppies.
Tank was born April 24, 2013. After 7 1/2 weeks, Tank was tested to see if he qualified to be one of CiaoBella’s donations. He checked every box.
CiaoBella gave Tank to Saint Francis Service Dogs in Roanoke, Virginia, to train as a seeing eye dog. Tank’s time with Saint Francis was spent between a surrogate family and the Bland County Correctional Facility, where an inmate took care of him. The program usually lasts two years, and the training to become a seeing eye dog is one of the hardest paths a dog can take.
After 18 months, it was determined that Tank would make a better therapy dog because of his social personality. So Tank returned to CiaoBella and earned American Kennel Club certifications, including the Therapy Dog Novice Title.
Tank’s call to service came again in July 2016 when his family brought him to the Virginia Tech campus.
“As soon as I met him I knew he was the perfect dog,” Sever said.
On Aug. 28, 2016, Tank’s name became a call sign, and he was officially known as Growley II.
As the school year started, Growley and Sever spent all their time together, adjusting to their new roles and living situations. Growley required a few weeks to grow comfortable with his new family of over 1,000 cadets.
Cadet Quinton Cookis ‘18, took over as the Growley Unit commander in April. Cadet Eleanor Franc ‘19, now serves as regimental handler, Growley’s primary caregiver. They are two of a nine-person team that cares for the 4-year-old dog.
“He is the funniest dog I have ever met. He has so much personality,” Franc said.
Franc and Cookis explained that the average day with Growley consists of three 20-minute walks, a series of games like fetch with the sophomores, grooming and health care every evening by juniors, and any events that require his appearance.
Senior cadets are responsible for interacting with the public and ensuring that the program is adhering to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules for his care and training plans.
As part of his USDA certification, inspectors make unannounced visits to campus to check on his care and accommodations.
Cookis detailed his plan for the program in the coming year: “Phase One was letting the whole Corps know that he’s their dog. Phase Two is letting the university know that he’s their dog too. You’re seeing that he just got put on the Class of 2019 ring. He will forever be their dog. People are really buying into the program to the point we are having major university events asking us to have him there, such as recruiting for the university as a whole, not just the Corps.”
Virginia Tech encourages students to embrace Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), enriching their lives by serving others. From birth, Growley has lived a life of service. Now, he embodies that selfless idea as a representative of the Corps.
Growley is a friendly face that invites people to get to know the Corps. For the cadets who take care of him, there couldn’t be a better dog for the job.
“I see Growley becoming the true ambassador for the university. The HokieBird will forever be our mascot, but Growley is the living ambassador. He is going to be the face of the Corps. As you see when we’re marching and at the football games, when he is announced the crowd lights up, everyone’s eyes are on him. I see him being our representation.” Cookis said, “He’s your dog. He’s our dog. That’s my dog.”