Pampered pet tours with professor

Their friendship knows no bounds.

From work, to the gym and even at the bar, their complementary sets of luscious locks and pearly whites are iconic.

English Professor Kirk Nesset and his black Pomeranian, Ryan, are celebrities at Allegheny College.

“[They] stroll the Oddfellows hallway like a pair of gangsters,” said Kiley Fisher, ’13.

At last Thursday’s Single Voice Reading, Ryan listened attentively in the first row as Nesset read his flash fiction and poems he had translated.

“If Ryan’s not paying attention, I know I’m doing something wrong,” Nesset said.

Senior Michael Babeji recalled the time he and a few fellow students watched Ryan while Nesset’s band, Uncle John’s Band, played at Grounds for Change.

“All the while Ryan would intermittently bark, as if cheering for his owner,” Babeji said.

Nesset isn’t the only one performing for the public eye.

“Once, in the English department hallway, Kirk brought out a hula hoop and Ryan performed show tricks,” said William Brewer, ’11.  “In that moment he was the star, or, at least a part of the same star team.”

Ryan’s been jumping through hula hoops, wiping his feet on the carpet and even playing dead since his first summer with Nesset.

Just over four years ago, those big brown eyes gleamed at him through a pet store display case, melting Nesset’s heart and breaking his wallet.

Nesset admits that he was always more of a cat person, but his love for Ryan has slowly transformed him into a dog-lover.

It also helps that Ryan, who was raised with Nesset’s three cats, has developed catlike qualities.

“He’ll sit on the back of the couch and lick his paws or he’ll groom other people,” Nesset said.

Nesset feels that Ryan serves as an ice-breaker, particularly when he interacts with students from other schools.

“These are visiting writer-student-interactions that might not have happened without the dog intercession because, first, people want to see the dog, and then they talk about writing,” he said.

Kiley Fisher, ’13, attested to Ryan’s calming energy.

“He makes me feel a lot less nervous about proposing dumb story ideas and asking Kirk to help me with my life decisions,” she said. “Mostly because it’s easier to make eye contact with Ryan [than Kirk].”

Ryan is a registered service dog, having passed entry screening for physical soundness and temperament.

He has also been dubbed Oddfellows’ unofficial therapy dog.

According to Nesset, at least one student walks into his office every day with the sole intent of seeing Ryan. Students and faculty often drop by to play with the dog, sit on the couch with him or even take him for a walk.

Although Ryan’s company is what guests most often crave, it’s Nesset’s own personality traits that reveal why the dog is so adored.

Students describe their professor’s character as nurturing, engaging, attentive and calming, words that could easily be used to describe Ryan.

Brewer referred to the man-dog relationship as a team of sidekicks, portraying them as one entity rather than individual performers.

“It’s always that way, it seems, between man and dog,” Brewer said. “That’s why we love them.”

Regardless of the pressures of celebrity status, Nesset finds that Ryan has completely embraced his public role here at Allegheny.

“I think part of the psychology is that Ryan thinks he has a huge family here,” Nesset said.