Two photos of dogs wearing Penn State Wilkes-Barre shirts.

Fur real: Dogs bring joy to community at Penn State Wilkes-Barre

Bear and Holly, a pair of 7-year-old golden retriever siblings who are owned by two sisters, enjoy daily walks at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, where students receive them with open arms.
By: Goldie Van Horn
Students enjoy interacting with dogs and their owners in mutually beneficial relationship

Bear and Holly. To Penn State Wilkes-Barre students, this pair needs no further introduction.

To those off campus, Bear and Holly are the unofficial campus mascots, a pair of 7-year-old golden retriever siblings who are owned by two sisters. Jean Lipski, Bear’s owner, and Joy Kozemchak, who owns Holly along with her husband, David, walk their dogs a few times a day at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, where they are always greeted warmly by students and other members of the campus community.

“My sister and brother-in-law and I just can’t get over how people love seeing the dogs on campus,” Lipski said. “There’s something so special about that campus. The students are so polite. Rarely does a student go by who doesn’t make eye contact or say ‘hi.’”

Lipski and the Kozemchaks adopted Bear and Holly from the same litter of pups when they were eight weeks old. They live just a few miles from campus and find it a great place to walk at all times of the year.

“Bear is used to going to campus almost every day with us. We’ve walked the dogs there since they were puppies,” Lipski said. “I remember taking Bear when we had only had him a couple of days. The kids all stood around him and he ran from person to person, wanting to see everybody.”

“We’ve always had golden retrievers but he is just something so special. He loves people so much and the kids and adults on the Penn State Wilkes-Barre campus just absolutely make his day,” she continued. “When I say, ‘Come on, Bear, we’re going to walk at Penn State,’ he comes and sits by his leash and collar. Then he rushes out to sit by the car to get in.”

Lipski is retired from a 41-year teaching career at Lake-Lehman High School, where she still coaches field hockey. She said she likes getting to know the students at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, a connection that Bear helps facilitate.

“I enjoy teenagers and think they are so refreshing. The students will often stop to talk and tell us about their home or other things in their lives. We know a lot of the kids by name and what states they live in or what local high school they went to,” she said.

“This is a very neat relationship and very reciprocal. The students tell us how they love to pet the dogs and how it helps calm them, or if they have a test, they think it’s good luck. And the dogs are just the happiest dogs and I think it’s from the petting and attention they get. They treat Bear and Holly like celebrities on campus and the dogs soak it in.”

For student Armani Simmons, the dogs provide a sense of comfort and home. She grew up with three Labrador retrievers and lives in New Jersey, about two and a half hours away.

“I’ve loved animals all my life and my dogs are my best friends,” she said. “To see Bear and Holly on a weekly basis reminds me of home. It is not even just about the dogs anymore. It is so relieving to just chat for a few minutes with very kind, nice and supportive people. The world can get hectic at times, but seeing all of them has definitely kept me going after a stressful day of classes.”

Student Alivia Wright, who chairs the Penn State Wilkes-Barre THON committee, said she got to know the dogs and their owners when she stopped to pet Bear and Holly on campus.

“They were on campus roughly the same time every day, so I stopped to see them every day,” she said. “I got more acquainted with Jean, Joy and Dave and I ended up walking with them when I didn’t have class. That bond has only grown ever since and I love seeing them on campus.”

She came up with the idea to sell merchandise featuring Bear and Holly as a fundraiser for THON. The committee designed shirts in five colors and three styles (hooded sweatshirts, long-sleeved T-shirts and short-sleeved T-shirts) printed with the words “Sorry I’m late. I was petting Bear and Holly.”

“Who isn’t late from petting them? It’s impossible to say goodbye,” Wright said. “Everyone loved the idea of shirts and the fundraiser went amazing. We raised $586 for THON with the shirt sales.”

While Penn State Wilkes-Barre students might be wearing Bear and Holly merchandise, sometimes Bear and Holly sport Penn State gear of their own, including Nittany Lion costumes for Halloween.

Lipski said the relationship with the students is a mutually beneficial one.

“Everyone is so wonderful to us and willing to accept us on campus. It brings happiness right back to me. I really enjoy talking with the students and interacting with them,” Lipski said. “We certainly get as much out of it as the kids and adults do. It’s a symbiotic relationship and I think it’s wonderful.”