By Steve Sears
14-year-old border collie mix Brutus specifically attended classes with his owner and Centenary University senior, Jasmine Steinwand, to keep a close eye on her due to her food allergies.
However, in a physics class she took, the loveable and loving dog not only stayed by the Cliffside Park resident’s side, but started to gravitate to and befriend her classmates, calming them during exams and garnering himself in the process a “Greatest Science Helper” award on graduation day courtesy of Science Department Chairwoman, Prof. Krassi Lazarova.
After being cleared by Centenary’s Academic Success Center and Disability Service Office, Brutus started attending classes with Steinwand. “Brutus made it possible for me to carry on my college career with my friends without fear,” she says. “which I am forever grateful for. Little did I know he would be a comfort to everyone, almost as if he was an emotional support animal for the other students.”
Steinwand moved to New Jersey with her family in May of 2016 to explore new educational opportunities. “I was interested in pursuing a Bachelor’s of Biology; specifically, pre-vet or pre-med, which led me to Centenary University.” The Steinwands adopted Brutus as a puppy in San Francisco, California from Rocket Dog Rescue while living in the state, where Brutus was also sent out to a training facility as a medicine retrieval dog.
At first, Steinwand was hesitant when she saw Brutus want to approach her classmates. “It actually took a while for Brutus to want to be involved with the other students; so, by the time he did start ‘checking in’ on others, I was confident that he was a welcomed presence. He was not allowed to be touched or interacted with while I was eating, which was important for my well-being. However, in the classroom during the spring semester of 2020 he really became a loveable part of the atmosphere. He has always been a friendly dog and now I believe he will be remembered in the halls of Trevorrow at Centenary University and the hearts of students for years to come.”
Professor Lazarova explains the reason for the “Special Science Helper” recognition. “Brutus helped not only Jasmine. He did more than that. He was the constant presence in Trevorrow and students got to use him as a therapy dog even though this was not his role. Our department felt we need to acknowledge this somehow.” And why did it work so well? “I think this worked out because of Brutus’ demeanor. He was incredibly calm and accommodating dog, very obedient and non-confrontational. He usually hid below the tables or desks as if he were not even there. I did not hear a single bark from him for the whole year. Sometimes a student accidentally bumps or steps on his toes, and he just moves more inside the desk to be out of the way. He is an old soul. His presence had a very calming effect on the students.”
Steinwand now moves on to New York University to study nursing, but Brutus won’t be accompanying her. “I will absolutely miss having him by my side all day!” she says. “However, I am extremely grateful that I have been able to manage my allergies on my own with the help of doctors, now he can live out his retirement at home with my fiancé and me.” Also, while living in the current environment of COVID-19, Steinwand’s next semester will be primarily at home, giving her more time to be with Brutus.
“Jasmine has a huge heart,” says her Professor. “I see her helping the world become a better place. She will become a nurse, but I expect her not to stop there. I see her eventually growing further either as an educator or growing into a medical professional.”
And if it is approved, would the Science Department in the future be open to a fun visit from Brutus on campus? “We would love to see Brutus back on campus!” states Lazarova.