Adventures of the dog who loves Guilford College
By Nils Skudra
It begins about a quarter of a mile before the first entrance to Guilford College off Friendly Avenue: the whimpering and moaning, low and throaty, which crescendos as we reach the campus proper. By then Jackson, a white, fluffy, impossibly big-headed, double-coated, curly-haired Bichon Frisé, is standing on all fours, and his barking has gone from allegro to prestissimo in a matter of seconds, which can mean only one thing: He wants to get out and touch ground on his beloved campus if not for its rich history and rolling topography, then for its invitation for him to be the nature boy he was meant to be.
I am a Civil War historian and Jackson, named for Gen. Stonewall Jackson, is affectionately known as “the history dog.” In truth, he is my service dog, helping me navigate the “real world” and intricacies of human interaction, so often confusing to someone like me, adrift on the autism spectrum. He has traveled with me to more than 40 cities in North Carolina, which I have visited in an effort to document their roles in that bloodiest of conflicts. During our sojourns, Jackson has been on several university campuses and even peed on the Old Well at UNC before I could stop him — much to the shock of a group of humorless students. He walked up the steps of the Duke University Chapel and gave Robert E. Lee a meaningful look before authorities took the statue down. Closer to home in Greensboro, he favors the area near the Foust Building at UNCG where I hang my academic graduate-school hat, but it is Guilford College that has his bestial heart.
Twice, weekly we seek solace from Guilford’s tranquility and reserve and its stately buildings. There is something in the air that is holy and sacred here. Jackson is leashed by legal necessity but moves with enthusiasm and alacrity, bounding up the steps of Dana Hall. He loves this place and on one occasion, caused me to lose my footing and my grip on his leash as he ran through its open doors reveling in momentary freedom. A guard, heavy with his sense of duty, demanded, “What’s that dog doing at this school?” Imagining the worst, (a call to the campus police, a severe scolding, invoking State sanctions and levying of a fine, which I really don’t need since I had still not paid my delinquent Piedmont Natural Gas bill), I gathered my wits and responded that the best part of Jackson’s day is whenever he can spend some time at Guilford College. “It is his ‘hallelujah time’ when the spirit of unfettered canine glory rises up in him and he is at one with the world,” I explained, mentioning my dog’s unfettered glee at exploring each tree and bush, careful not to disturb the Eastern bluejays and mourning doves — though the omnipresent squirrels might be another story altogether. The guard suddenly laughed and broke into a smile. “OK, then,” he said.
The possibility of censure is gone and we leave Dana Hall, past Duke Memorial for the Hege Library. And wouldn’t you know it? Déjà vu all over again.
Jackson bolted through the open door, his leash trailing him and I in hot pursuit, as everyone in it shrieked with delight. He was running amok and simultaneously barking at the top of lungs, having a field day in the Hege! Running after Jackson I yelled to the librarian behind the desk that he is my service dog and she yelled back, “What service is this dog providing?” “Er, circulation?” I offered, as Jackson headed in the direction of the Quaker Room. I managed to scoop him up, get him tethered again, and race out of the library, volleys of laughter in the background.
This is his campus and bounding everywhere upon it, he unabashedly claims it as his own. I have often wondered whether he had a past life here; perhaps he was Levi Coffin’s dog or sat under a nearby pulpit listening to hymnals being read. When no one was nearby I even looked him squarely in the face and asked if he were a reincarnation of some Quaker personage, a possible explanation of his great affection for this school. Whereupon he cocked his head, met my eye and winked, smiling that endearing Bichon Frisé smile, broad, beaming and mysterious. A Friend’s best friend indeed. OH
Hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, Nils Skudra moved to Greensboro UNCG’s History MA program with a concentration in Civil War/Reconstruction History. As a recent graduate, he hopes to find full-time employment as a research historian, archivist or curator. In his spare time he writes for local publications, such as the Greensboro News and Record and Asheboro Magazine.