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Service Dog Brutus

June 16, 2020

Late in life, Brutus is building up quite a resume.

The loveable 14-year-ish mutt, rescued from a California shelter, was a family pet before he trained to become a service dog for his Cliffside Park owner.

Last month, after Brutus helped Jasmine Steinwand graduate from Centenary University, his memorable senior-year on campus moved the chairwoman of the Science Department to present a special “Greatest Science Helper” award.

Steinwand said Brutus accompanied her to the Centenary campus in Hackettstown for her senior year because she was struggling to manage her food allergies.

“He was trained to be receptive to any sort of anaphylactic shock, and he can retrieve my EpiPen,” she said. “He came to school with me every day and during the lectures, he would just sit on the floor and fall asleep.”

“He senses Jasmine’s needs,” said Prof. Krassi Lazarova, chairwoman of the science department who had Steinwad and Brutus in one of her physics classes.

Before long, Brutus adopted the rest of the class.

“The more amazing thing that I didn’t anticipate was the calming effect he had on all of the other students,” Steinwand said. “Whenever we would take tests or quizzes, he would start walking around the room and checking on people, and whoever seemed to be the most stressed would be the one he would sit next to.”

“It didn’t start out that way,” said Prof. Krassi Lazarova, chairwoman of the science department who had Steinwand and Brutus in one of her physics classes. “It started that Brutus had to be with Jasmine at all times. But then all of a sudden, Brutus had to be with every student at all times.”

“He ended up becoming an iconic part of the campus,” Steinwand said. “People knew his name, even if they didn’t know me.”

Animals are allowed on campus and in dorms after clearing what Lazarova described as “rigorous processes” with Centenary’s Academic Success Center and Disability Service Office.

But service dogs in classrooms are a rarity. Brutus was a first for Lazarova.

A self-described cat person with a soft heart for dogs, Lazarova had initial reservations about Brutus, particularly in science labs.

“My problem with animals in buildings is mostly safety-related,”  she said. “Think about a lab. If you end up with an animal in a lab, you don’t really know what could happen. We’re talking about physics labs, chemistry labs, biology labs. Sometimes, there are sounds, noises or smells, you never know what could be a problem.”

But the mellow border collie mix, adopted from Rocket Dog Rescue in San Francisco before Steinwad’s family moved to New Jersey, quickly proved its worth.

“Brutus alleviates all of my concerns,” Lazarova said. “He really was always out of the way. He was incredibly well-behaved. Usually, service dogs are well-behaved.”

So when it came time for the science department to hand our its achievement awards for the academic year, Lazarova created a “Special Science Helper” award for Brutus, which was presented in a virtual ceremony along with 14 student awards.

“It was a surprise to me. I was lucky enough to win an [Senior Merit] award myself, and then he won an award,” Steinwand said. “It was pretty heartwarming.”

“He is an incredible animal and we were so lucky to have him,” Lazarova said.

Steinwand, who accepted a degree in biology with a concentration of pre-veterinary studies and a minor in chemistry, will continue her studies at NYU, where she has been accepted into an accelerated program for registered nursing.

Brutus, however, will stay home for now, “only because I’ve been able to get my medical involvement under control lately,” Steinwand said.

Lazarova added praise for all the student award-winners who “have distinguished themselves for their commitment to the advancement of science.”

“Despite the pandemic, they found creative ways to continue their studies virtually,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of every Centenary science student, as well as our faculty, for rising to the challenges presented by COVID-19.”

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