Chemistry professor Carol Parish is not only teaching students this year, she is also teaching a service dog trainee that has become an honorary member of the chemistry department.  

Parish and her husband, Marty Zeldin, a visiting senior research scholar, are nearly halfway through training Dell, an 8-month-old black Labrador. Dell is a member of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an internationally accredited guide dog school.

When Parish was an undergraduate, she worked for a veterinarian and became familiar with Guiding Eyes. After reading about someone who began using a guide dog, she was “completely moved” and started looking into training a dog of her own.

After Parish got the green light from the University, the chair of her department and her colleagues, she started bringing Dell to work in the Gottwald Center for the Sciences. Because guide dogs must be able to work in all types of environments, bringing Dell to campus was a great way to train him, she said.

“You put a puppy in a work environment and everybody wants to interact,” she said. “There are lots of students and faculty on the second and third floor, where Marty and I work. As soon as we started bringing the dog in, everybody knew.”

Parish is a theoretician and works in a research computer lab rather than the “wet labs” where many chemists work, which keeps Dell out of any danger. This summer, Parish has a research group of 14 students, working on molecular modeling to design drugs for HIV/AIDS, studying the reactivity of oil shale and understanding the behavior of motor proteins.

She and Zeldin take turns keeping the dog in their offices while the other teaches class.

Staying under the desk in their offices trains Dell, who wears a blue guide-dog jacket, to stay by their side while they work. It also keeps him away from students who may be afraid or allergic. But the students have actually been a huge help, Parish said.

“The students are terrifically helpful,” she said. “We have to train the dog so that he has good people-greeting skills. He can’t jump or get excited when he sees a new person; he has to focus on his owner. We’ve been working with the students to help him with that.

“They know when they see him, he has to sit. Now he’s good with that because he has so much experience greeting people.”

The diverse environment in Gottwald has been great training for Dell, who can’t be distracted by new sounds, smells or people. Aside from his daily interactions, Dell also attends regular training classes that Guiding Eyes holds on UR’s campus.

Parish and Zeldin will keep Dell for a total of 14–20 months, depending on how quickly he matures. So far, he’s “looking terrific,” Parish said.