Gallery: UCLA and Westwood community share stories of their dogs on campus

(Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)

By Myka Fromm

May 15, 2023 at 12:33 p.m.

Aside from bustling students traveling to and from class, Bruins can also find dogs roaming on campus with their owners. Students and community members alike all use UCLA’s campus to provide their canine companions with a stimulating and friendly environment to walk in and share their stories.

Socks, a two-year-old corgi, stands in the middle of Bruin Plaza.

On April 24, a little after 4 p.m. as I was heading back from campus, I ran into Elton Wang, a graduate student in business administration, and his dog Socks in Bruin Plaza. Elton said that Socks, who he adopted in San Diego, loves people. During our conversation, several people walked up to Socks and asked to pet him, and Socks expressed his enjoyment by wagging his butt. Wang said he loves seeing people pet Socks because “it makes Socks really happy, and … people get really happy.”

Wang continued by saying, “I try to take him on campus every day so he can meet people.”

Since our conversation a couple of weeks ago, I have seen Wang and Socks several times – out on Bruin Walk, on Janss Steps and in front of Royce – and every time, Socks bounced around and let his tongue dangle as he did that first day.

Rescue dog and emotional support animal Venus Kim gazes into the camera.

After my conversation with Wang, I continued along Bruin Walk, deciding to turn the corner before Pauley Pavilion, where I ended up next to the James West Alumni Center and found Xitlali Gomez-Williams. The fourth-year political science student was there with her dog Venus. Gomez-Williams said she was there to practice with Grupo Folklórico de UCLA, a traditional dance group that celebrates Mexican culture.

“I usually bring her (Venus) to practice, and we have around 100 members,” she said. “She was a little overwhelmed at first but now she loves everyone.”

Gomez-Williams admitted her struggles with managing a busy schedule while parenting a dog, but also said, “I’ve been really lucky to have supportive friends who will watch her if I can’t walk her or take her out or just hang out with her.”

Riley, a year-old rescue dog, looks toward the center of the Sunken Gardens.

The next morning, I wandered up from my class in La Kretz Hall toward the Music Library, where Jeff Balton, a Westwood resident, was walking his dog, Riley. Balton described Riley as laid-back and friendly around people, but that was not the case when he and his wife adopted Riley just over a year ago from Mexico.

“We were thinking about giving him back … because he was so aggressive,” Balton said. Once Riley settled into his new environment, Balton said he became much calmer and “turned out to be my best friend.”

Theo, a mix of poodle, cocker spaniel, dachshund and pomeranian, stares eagerly up at a student who asked to pet him.

After meeting Balton and Riley, I walked down to Bruin Plaza, where UCLA Extension graduate Dave Vangrov stood with his rescue dog, Theo. Vangrov said that although Theo has his share of fears, including escalators and trash bags, he is overall an adventurous dog, and the two of them can be seen skateboarding around campus together.

“He’ll pull me on the sidewalk until he sees another dog. Then he veers off the path, and I fall off the skateboard,” Vangrov said.

Rescue dog Zuko turns to look toward the John Wooden Center.

Just moments later, I found Aeson Salcedo, a third-year psychobiology student, by the front of the John Wooden Center with a dog slowly trotting beside him. Zuko actually belonged to Salcedo’s roommate, who had to go to a lab, so Salcedo volunteered to take on the responsibility. Zuko apparently loves his owner to such an extent that Salcedo described him as sometimes “clingy.”

“When my roommate left this morning, he was whining for her,” he continued. But Salcedo and his roommate still have a lot to learn about Zuko since they had picked him up off the street only a week prior.

Chaney, a miniature dachshund, stares up at the camera.

As I continued down Bruin Walk, Assistant Athletic Trainer David Wacker, passed by with his miniature dachshund named Chaney.

With Chaney being his emotional support animal, Wacker said, “(I) definitely can’t imagine life without her. … When her and her litter mates were born, I just saw a picture of her and knew she was the one.”

Chaney does not always behave cooperatively, sometimes showing her “spunky” side, and Wacker said that in these moments, “It’s almost as if I’m her emotional support animal when she should be mine.”

Husky siblings Lily and Benny receive pets from a student on Bruin Walk.

On April 26 on my way to class, I found two Siberian huskies playing around with each other by the Bruin Bear. Esther Jacobson, the woman with them, introduced me to Lily and Benny, who belong to one of her clients. Both dogs had a lot of energy and darted all around, especially when they noticed other dogs nearby.

Jacobson described Lily as more meditative, saying, “She didn’t want to come out for a walk at first, but once she saw that her brother and I were on our way, she got convinced.”

Both dogs drew a lot of attention, as several people came up and petted them while I took photos. Jacobson said she loves walking through campus with Lily and Benny and that “the nice part is when people just smile when they see them.”

Harper, an Australian shepherd, pants after running around by Janss Steps.

As the sun began to set that day, I found Yue Du, an alumnus and member of the Engineering Alumni Association Board, playing frisbee with his dog, Harper, on the grass by Janss Steps. Throughout the conversation, Harper repeatedly barked so Du would know that she wanted him to throw the frisbee again.

Du said several times that Harper has “way too much energy” and can get rambunctious at times, sometimes even stealing food from picnickers and photobombing strangers’ family photos.

“I think she’s been in at least two family portraits of random people who are just trying to have a nice afternoon,” Du said.

Elsa Dubil poses with her service dog Nausicaä in front of Royce Hall.

Dubil, a fifth-year bioengineering student, was watching her dog Nausicaä play on Royce Quad when I saw her. Nausicaä is a fully trained service dog, part husky and part German shepherd.

“She’s got a lot of friends on campus,” Dubil said. “I teach aerial acrobatics classes here, and so she comes to the classes with me too,” she continued, adding that “she’s a little bit of our club’s mascot.”

As a service dog, Nausicaä attends all of Dubil’s classes with her, so they rarely leave each other’s side. Dubil said she is trying to get permission from the school for Nausicaä to walk with her at graduation in June. Although she said life is much easier now that she has Nausicaä, Dubil emphasized the amount of work required to train a dog and explained that she put in 500 hours of training over the summer so that Nausicaä would be ready by the start of this school year.

The pair have shared many fun memories, including at an alumni event hosted by the UCLA Anderson School of Management earlier this year. At the event, Nausicaä slipped off her leash and started running through the crowd as Dubil frantically chased after her.

“I couldn’t see her, and I was just hearing people throughout the crowd be like, ‘Oh my God!’” Dubil said. She ultimately found Nausicaä playing in a bouncy castle and earned both of them a mention on the UCLA Instagram story that day.

Hunt Nguyen smiles as they look toward their service dog, Starla.

After getting their number from Dubil, I met Hunt Nguyen at the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden the following week. The fourth-year biology student was sitting on a bench with Starla, their service dog and three-year-old husky-labrador mix. Nguyen described the process of finding Starla, who the family adopted so that their older dog, Hansen, could have a companion.

“All the other dogs were really mean to our dog,” Nguyen said. But when they met Starla, “She basically gave him a kiss on the face and laid down. Hansen, the old guy, really liked her. He wagged his butt.”

Nguyen gazes down at Starla, who is wearing her service dog harness.

Nguyen emphasized that although having a service dog on campus is not easy, UCLA has been a welcoming community.

“Everyone at UCLA is really kind and considerate of their peers, and I appreciate that because if I show up to class, and I show up late, and there’s no accessible seating, someone will give me their seat,” they said. “Everyone’s been really respectful about us being a working team.”

Nguyen said that after their graduation this spring, they hope UCLA maintains this compassionate culture and advises students to respect service dogs and to not pet them without direct permission from their handler.

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