By Peter Edgar
At Florida Southern College, there are students who are well-known around campus.
There is one individual who, whether he is known by name or just meeting someone for the first time, always brightens their day – Riley, the campus counseling dog.
While the mid-size Wheaten Terrier usually hangs out in the counseling center on the first floor of the Thrift Alumni Building, every day he takes a two-hour walk with Mackenzie Blevins, a second-year marine biology major at FSC.
Riley is beloved by students and employees alike, and he knows it. During his daily walk, Riley seems to have premeditated his stops in his mind. He gets a chicken finger from the Terrace Cafe and treats from the Buckstop. In Tutu’s Cafe, he tried to go behind the counter.
Blevins stopped him, saying, “You are important, but there are boundaries.”
Though Riley may own the campus, he does not live in the counseling center overnight. Riley’s father, Tom Norman, is a counselor at FSC, and Riley’s mother works in the Arts complex near Branscomb auditorium. He returns home with them in the evening to his brother, a beagle named Henry.
Regardless, Blevins feels as attached to Riley as his own owners do. During Hurricane Irma, Blevins returned home to Tennessee, but he was extremely worried about Riley.
“I was so worried during the hurricane. I didn’t know how he was,” Blevins said.
Before she began attending Florida Southern, Blevins always had Riley in her mind.
“I told my parents, ‘I’m going to be a walker for Riley, ’” Blevins said.
When she arrived, the position was taken, but the office told her to call back in the spring because her predecessor was going to graduate.
“I emailed them, and I was like, ‘Is it open?,’” Blevins said.
They called her in for two interviews, one with the previous walker and one with Norman. When she was informed that she got the position, there were tears of joy. Blevins loves her job, but there are a couple downsides as well.
“The only days I don’t like it is when it’s really hot. Then I take him inside to make sure he can cool off and rest a little bit,” Blevins said.
Also, if Riley has to stop to go to the bathroom, she is expected to clean up after him. On the leash, there’s a small, gray, bone-shaped pouch with doggie bags inside.
Blevins’s philosophy for walking Riley is simple. He leads, and she keeps him in check. Riley has a gentle leader on, which, if he were to yank on, would pull his whole head, keeping his neck safe. Since Riley is not used to the leader, he has a habit of sitting and trying to use his front paws to remove it.
“It’s a habit we’re trying to break,” Blevins said.
Riley is strong but generally obedient, besides his nervous tics. Blevins describes him as “well-behaved”. He is five years old but still “puppy-like.”
Riley is able to enter any building on campus, but just because of how much of a stir he usually causes, he and Blevins only go into the library once a week. Riley is met with many voices, from those of the students he encounters to the staff around campus.