After five years of greeting people across campus, sharing the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets story, and providing tail wags and morale boosts to cadets, Growley II (call sign “Tank”) will retire at the end of this semester.
The 8-year-old yellow Labrador has served honorably as the corps’ faithful canine ambassador. His reward? He soon will become a happily spoiled pet.
The adoption process is already underway among corps’ alumni who served as Growley’s handlers or on his 12-member team. Current Growley Team cadets are also working with Ciao Bella Retrievers of Troutville, Virginia, to train Growley III.
Meanwhile, Growley II and team are looking forward to a few more months on the job.
Growley II is a happy, bouncy dog who loves to play ball. “He’s fiercely loyal, eager to please, and the most expressive dog,” said his handler, Cadet Dara Qualter, a senior in the corps’ Citizen-Leader Track majoring in biomedical science in the College of Science.
Trained as a companion dog, he enjoys the attention of being an ambassador, and his cadet team ensures he has a healthy, fun, and stress-free life on campus, where he lives with Qualter on Upper Quad.
Growley II arrived on campus during summer 2016 as a 3-year-old Lab, the unexpected result of a miserable winter morning for then cadet Zack Sever.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been five years,” said Sever, now a U.S. Navy lieutenant and F-18 pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 103 at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He graduated in 2017 with a degree in political science from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
That morning of Sever’s junior year, everyone was in a mood. Grousing turned to possible solutions. Someone mentioned the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M had a dog, Reveille. Someone else mentioned the story of Virginia Tech’s corps having a dog decades ago.
Later that day, Sever was still thinking about a dog. His roommate pushed him to try to make it a reality.
The way Col. Patience Larkin, who retired from the U.S. Air Force to serve as the corps’ alumni director, remembers it, Sever showed up in her office with a document detailing why the corps needed a dog. A 1987 corps alumnus who earned a degree political science, she had been a member of Echo Company, like Sever.
Larkin listened and offered to bring the idea to Commandant of Cadets Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart. But, she warned, Sever’s plan needed more details. A lot more details.
“When people come to me with good ideas and then they see how much work it is, they usually go away and never come back,” Larkin said. “But he went away and did all the work.”
Sever researched Texas A&M’s long-established mascot program. He proposed that a corps dog be licensed by the USDA as an exhibition animal, a now voluntary program that requires specific requirements for an animal’s care, daily documentation of those requirements, and unannounced inspections.
When they approached Fullhart with the plan, he was impressed with its thoroughness. He also saw a unique opportunity to support the mental well-being of cadets and better connect the corps with the whole of Hokie Nation.
He said yes. Sever became the first handler and under Larkin’s guidance the program took shape.
“We weren’t focused on the idea of creating a new corps tradition when we started,” Larkin said. “We just wanted to make the Growley program viable. With a dog, you can’t say, ‘Nah, this isn’t working. We’re going to stop and do something else.’ We needed to create a program that was as correct as it could be and then make small adjustments so it worked for us.”
They did just that.
Today, Growley II is beloved across campus and has even been featured on several Virginia Tech class rings. As a cadet brigadier general, he’s the highest-ranking cadet. He wears a “tankerchief” that matches the uniform of the day for the cadets. He goes to classes with Qualter, and he makes a dozen appearances a month, both in the cadet residence halls and across campus.