By Layla Melendez | December 4, 2023
Statue of Damien, the university mascot, in the Great Dane Union.
Photo Credit: Brian Busher / UAlbany
Jayme Laing and her 60-pound Blue Heeler service dog, Sasuke, may be a familiar sight around campus. Laing walks with her one-year-old companion by the pond and fields several times daily but finding a place for her dog to roam free and train off leash in a safe, confined area has been difficult.
“The nearest dog park is a 29-minute walk from campus,” Laing, a senior whose service dog has trained for the majority of his life at the University at Albany, said. “It has been really hard to train him at school because I have nowhere to take him. I want to give him a space where he can run around and be a dog, but fenced in safely.”
To help remedy the situation, Laing started an online petition that asks UAlbany to build a dog park on campus. The “Great Dane Dog Park,” a title inspired by the university’s mascot, the petition has garnered more than 200 signatures since it went live on Change.org last year in 2022.
“When I got Sasuke, I started noticing more and more dogs on campus. I realized other students might need space for their pets to run free and breathe too,” Laing said.
According to a university email, six emotional support dogs have been officially approved for campus inclusion.
Currently, dogs and owners are welcome to utilize outdoor spaces on campus as long as their furry friends are properly registered, up-to-date on their vaccinations, and on a leash.
Jayme’s service dog, Sasuke.
Photo Credit: Jayme Laing
But not all dog owners abide by the rules. Dogs can often be seen off leash in the morning on the sports fields and Indigenous Pond Trail. That’s a concern for Laing, and another reason for her petition, she said.
“First, the soccer and baseball fields are covered in waste,” Laing said. “My former roommate is involved with sports on campus, and would tell me all the time how frustrating it is that she can’t really practice on the fields because it’s just gross.”
An athletic field at UAlbany.
Photo Credit: Layla Melendez / The ASP
Laing also said the Indigenous Pond Trail poses a danger to dogs because the woods are a habitat for ticks, which can carry bacteria that cause a variety of diseases, including Lyme disease.
Although the university has not received any reports of tick bites, ticks are likely present given the environment, according to an email from the maintenance department. Ticks generally thrive in wooded, shaded environments where deer and mice and other rodents are present.
Sarah Abdou, a senior studying political science, showed her support for the dog park by signing, sharing, and commenting on the petition. Having recently adopted a dog from Albany’s Mohawk Humane Society, Abdou said that her two-year old Pitbull Lab mix, Teddy, would benefit from having a space on campus, as would other students.
“In a way, I feel dogs save us as much as we save them, so UAlbany should definitely get behind this and finally just do it,” Abdou said, who added she would love to bring Teddy to an on-campus dog park.
Abdou’s dog Teddy.
Photo Credit: Sarah Abdou
Training the administration into accepting a dog park, however, might prove difficult.
“We love dogs,” UAlbany’s Director of Communications and University Spokesperson Jordan Evangelist said, specifically highlighting the university’s Great Dane mascot Damien and assistance dogs Roxy and Kolt at the University Police Department. “But there currently are no plans to build a dog park on campus for a few reasons.”
Those reasons include the university’s animal policy that restricts the number of dogs allowed on campus and inside university buildings, competing demands for recreational space, additional resources to clean and maintain a dog park, and the potential liability risk to dogs and people.
While popular with owners on campus, pets are prohibited from the practice fields.
Photo Credit: Layla Melendez / The ASP
No offense to Damien, but given the university's position, it might be quite some time, if ever, before students see a real Great Dane enjoying some off-leash freedom on campus.