Senior neuroscience and psychology major Annellyse Chan wanted to spend more time with dogs.
She started a new student organization this semester called Diamond Dogs to do just that. Members of the new club volunteer at two Northern Liberties animal shelters: Street Tails Animal Rescue and Saved Me Adoption Center, where they walk, play with and care for rescue dogs.
Chan said most shelters require dogs to be walked three times a day, but a shortage of volunteers makes it hard to meet that goal. The mission of Diamond Dogs is to fill that need while helping college students stay active.
Chan came up with the idea after conducting research for her major related to obesity, eating disorders and exercise. Her sorority Delta Phi Epsilon has also worked with the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. She said this fostered her passion for helping young people maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“I’m also obsessed with animals,” Chan said. “So I thought this would be really cool.”
Chan has her own dog, a 2-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog and poodle mix named Obi, at her parents’ house — but they only adopted him after she moved to college.
Diamond Dogs seemed like the perfect way to get more face time with animals. But getting the club off the ground has not been easy.
Chan proposed the idea in July 2017, but had to settle university concerns. Student Activities did not want the school to be liable for possible student injury. After creating waivers and promising not to bring the dogs to campus, she finally secured approval in September. From that point on, she worked to create the club’s constitution and recruit interested students.
As a senior, she needed a younger student to help run the club so it could continue after she graduates. Sophomore therapeutic recreation major Natalie Onopchenko, who met Chan through their sorority, applied to take over as president.
“She’s really trustworthy, outgoing, definitely confident,” Chan said. “I can see her leading the group.”
Onopchenko has had a lifelong love of dogs. Her yellow labrador Buddy died at 14 years old when she was a college freshman. But her parents plan to adopt a new dog in April.
Once appointed president at the end of Fall 2017, she reached out to friends, classmates and sorority sisters to recruit members for the club’s executive board. The team worked out details of the club, establishing that each member must spend a minimum of five hours volunteering at the shelter per semester.
They also organized the first meeting, which took place on Feb. 2. More than 100 people attended.
“That’s awesome, to have that excitement factor, because it gives us the motive to actually follow through with this,” Onopchenko said. “I didn’t actually know how many people would show up.”
Gillian Black, a freshman communication and social influence major, attended the event because of her love for dogs as well as her desire to meet new people.
“I knew that it would probably be a very diverse group of people,” she said. “So I joined because I wanted to make new friends and help the community at the same time.”
For Onopchenko, the social aspect of the club is what makes it special. The executive board created a group chat through the messaging app GroupMe, in which members talk and send pictures of their dogs.
She hopes that members who share a volunteering time slot on the schedule will use the group chat to carpool together to the shelters, which are both less than a 10-minute drive from Main Campus. Ideally, Onopchenko said, this time can be used for members to get to know each other away from the dogs.
Onopchenko said group members will attempt to visit shelters at least every week. At the next meeting on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Room 200C of the Student Center, Chan and Onopchenko plan to announce when the shelter visits will begin.
Though she said she is sad to leave the club behind, Chan isn’t worried about how it will fare without her.
“I’m happy to have been able to build the foundation for it, and I’m definitely going to keep in touch and see how everything is going,” Chan said. “But I’m confident that the group that I’m passing the torch on to is going to kill it.”