By Amy Shirer
Visitors to Palme House have most likely encountered a little black pug, Alfred, who has been taking classes at Kenyon since 2009 with his owners J. Kenneth Smail Professor Emerita Pat Urban and J Kenneth Smail Professor of Anthropology Edward Schortman. “He comes in pretty much every day I come in,” Schortman said. “He often refuses to come in on Friday because he’s too tired, but he will come in Monday through Thursday usually.”
Over the years, Alfred has become a local celebrity. A deaf rescue dog, Alfred was found abandoned by the side of the road. His exact age is unknown, but Schortman believes he is around 13 or 14 years old. “He’s a very gregarious, self-important, opinionated animal,” Schortman said. “He barks at people, and I don’t know why. But he’s always very friendly towards folks. He’s pretty calm, but almost always hungry – pugs are almost always hungry. Even when they have eaten a lot, they are still hungry. The idea of food is very important to pugs.” In his free time, Alfred enjoys arranging his many stuffed toys and inserting them into shoes that people have left out on the floor.
Alfred is also available during office hours. Paige Ballard ’18 has Schortman as her faculty advisor, and was “a little freaked out” during her first meeting with him due to a slight fear of dogs, but Alfred eventually won her over. “He’s great,” she said. “He runs around and sniffs at my feet. He joins in the conversation. He helps pick classes for me, and sometimes he disagrees with Professor Schortman, but we work it out. We all come to an agreement.” To confirm that everyone in class is comfortable with Alfred’s presence, Schortman urges anyone with concerns, such as allergies or fear of dogs, to talk to him. If there is a problem, Alfred will ‘dropout’ of the session.
Jan Rivera-Pagan ’17 took Schortman’s Introduction to Archaeology class last spring, and liked having the four-legged teaching assistant there. “Professor Schortman would put Alfred on his lap while he was lecturing, and Alfred would make this purring sound,” she said. “It was the most adorable thing, and it brightened up my day. It was an 8:10 a.m. class, so it was tough. Alfred kept me going.” Alfred’s presence also helped fill the void of Rivera-Pagan missing her own dog.
Having a dog in class or at office hours could be distracting, but Alfred is well-behaved. “For the most part, Alfred did things on the amusing side,” Rivera-Pagan said. “He would walk around and go underneath some of the students’ desks. For example, if someone had a half-finished breakfast, he’d sniff at it and be like, ‘OK, you can have it.’” But, she mused, does that really count as misbehaving?
Ballard said he never misbehaves. “He’ll bark, and pant, but never in an interrupting manner,” she said.
Schortman called him a “good companion,” explaining that he brings him to classes because Alfred “gets really lonely if he’s left at home,” Schortman said. “A great many students seem to find him comforting to have around. He seems to enjoy being here. In general, I think people either like him or are somewhat indifferent towards him.”
Alfred can often be found in his favorite spot on campus, which is his pillow in Schortman’s Palme House office. He is quite fond of Kenyon, and plans to continue in his current position for many years to come.