From Chained Dog to University Star: Dakota's Story

How one rescued dog is changing the lives of faculty and students.
By: Diana Bocco
Dakota the dog at Fairfield University

Dakota’s story starts back in Georgia, a long way away from her current home in Connecticut. It was there that Carol Wood, co-founder of TLC Sweet Souls Rescue, first met the adorable pup. The non-profit group rescues dogs from high-kill shelters in the South and provides them with medical care before placing them into foster homes.

Before a scheduled transport trip down in Georgia, a woman contacted Wood about a dog in desperate need of help. “She had driven by this poor pup every day. [The puppy was] living outside a trailer with another dog on a chain—in the hot Georgia heat, day in and day out, with little to no water,” recalls Wood.

The woman had stopped and given the dogs food and water many times, but never found anyone home at the residence. Finally, on one visit, the woman found someone home who asked her if she wanted to take Dakota. “She didn’t even think twice about it and just grabbed the pup and brought her home,” says Wood.

While the woman had originally hoped to keep Dakota, she soon realized that adding a new puppy to her two-dog home was more than she could handle—so she reached out to Wood. “After seeing pictures of Dakota and hearing what a great girl she was, I confirmed that our rescue would be happy to help her,” she remembers. “Our rescue got Dakota fully vetted, and since I was doing the next transport, they held on to her till the day of transport.”

A New Start in Connecticut

Dakota in her new homeDakota was living in a foster home when Carole Pomarico saw an ad about her on a pet adoption website. The ad described Dakota as a very sweet six-month old Lab mix who loved everybody—and that was enough to catch the attention of Pomarico, who lost both of her dogs earlier that year. After six months of grieving, Pomarico was ready to have a new dog in her home.

After completing an adoption form Pomarico went to meet her potential new friend. “I took one look at Dakota and immediately began to cry with happiness,” Pomarico recalls, adding that, to her surprise, she was able to take Dakota home with her that same day. “On the drive home she sat quietly and calmly in my back seat. She was a perfect angel.”

Dakota felt at home from the moment she crossed the threshold. It was perhaps destiny that Pomarico found the dog she did, especially given what happened next.

University Life

As luck would have it, Pomarico is a professor in the Fairfield University Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies. Around the time she adopted Dakota, she was also doing some research on the role dogs play in stress reduction with college students. “So I told the Dean about adopting Dakota and asked if I could bring her into the school of nursing as a trial to see how she would behave and how the students would receive her,” Pomarico says. “In the summer, we have fewer students so it was a perfect time to introduce her to our environment.”

So Dakota came in and met the children of some of the staff (which was a huge success) before getting the OK from the Dean, the public safety department, and the counseling center. “I felt that she should have some type of credentials so I registered her as an emotional support dog, specifying that her purpose was to reduce stress in college students,” says Pomarico.

Dakota in class at Fairfield UniversityBy the fall of 2015, Dakota was going to school full time, sharing office hours with Pomarico, and welcoming visits from students, faculty, and staff. “Dakota also accepts requests from faculty to attend class or meet with students 15-20 minutes before an exam,” Pomarico adds. “The Faculty make requests to me via e-mail telling me when their class is and when they would like Dakota to attend.” So far, Dakota has attended mostly classes in the School of Nursing but her therapy duties have recently expanded to the biology department. 

Pomarico says, at this point, the only evidence she has of Dakota’s effect is the positive comments from students and the smiles on their faces when they see Dakota in the classroom. But the professor does have plans to do a little more official research to see if Dakota is really lowering stress on campus. “The biology department faculty and I are going to conduct cortisol studies on students before an exam without Dakota and with Dakota,” Pomarico says. “We hope the outcome will be that Dakota helps to reduce cortisol/stress levels, but we need to wait for our research.”

While Dakota’s start in life was traumatic, the dog is not letting those bad memories affect her daily happiness. The pup loves attending school and bringing joy to the students at Fairfield. “Dakota is one of the most even-tempered, loving, calm and responsive dogs I have ever owned,” says Pomarico.

Images courtesy Carole Pomarico