How a local service dog became the University's unofficial mascot

Monday, September 3, 2018 - 9:19pm

Reggie the Campus Corgi

Reggie the Campus Corgi Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

Alexandra Ngo, who graduated in 2018, sat with Michael Sola in the Michigan Union Billiards Room, where Ngo worked, watching Vine compilations one night in Spring 2017. Sola, a local retiree and Pembroke Welsh corgi owner, found the Vines both amusing and perhaps a bit bewildering. They were seemingly ridiculous videos that garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

Ngo joked anyone could post pretty much anything online, which they could then monetize and popularize — like Sola’s dog, Reggie, for example.

“You can make a Facebook page,” Ngo told him. “Something where people can follow Reggie.”

It was at this moment in the now-defunct Billiards Room that the former junior excitedly helped Sola establish an avid following on campus.

The plan was to construct a Facebook profile for Reggie Bee, Sola’s eight-year-old corgi that Ngo had grown to love through moments like these in the Billiards Room and her own interest in corgis.

And thus, from a spontaneous Vine-watching session, the online profile of the University’s famous dog — and some would argue mascot — came to be.

Now, nearly a year-and-a-half later, everyone knows Reggie: student organizations use him on their brochures, photos of him proliferate social media and, of course, he appears in a multitude of memes.

Sola loves it. For the semi-professional photographer, taking pictures of University students at some of their happiest moments, with his dog Reggie, brings him great joy.

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Reggie gets attention and pets from passing students in the Diag.

Reggie gets attention and pets from passing students in the Diag. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

Searching for a dog to help him if he ever faced a life-threatening event, Sola — an Air Force veteran who served outside of San Francisco during the Vietnam War — adopted Reggie six years ago and had him trained as a service dog. Because of a heart condition, Sola would rely on Reggie’s assistance should an event put Sola in danger.

Sola’s first searches for a cute canine companion proved fruitless. However, after speaking with a corgi rescue, Sola made up his mind to adopt one.

“There (was) a corgi up in Gaylord and so I called up there and the lady said to come on up,” Sola recalled. “So I went up to Gaylord, and I met Reggie, Reggie’s older sister Sandy Dee and two other labs. And this lady has had Reggie since he was a baby. She said she’s held him in her arms when he was a baby and actually fed him with a little bottle. He’s a well-liked dog, has all his shots and she has lived with him all his life. He was two years old and she had too many dogs so she needed to find someone who would take Reggie.”

Sola would be that person — to nurture and provide him an environment, and eventually an entire University student body, that would care for him deeply.

However, Reggie’s primary role is to be a service dog for Sola — to help him in case of an emergency if he happened to be alone or could not use his cell phone.

“If I start to have a heart event, if I’m in a park or something like that, he will go get me help,” Sola said. “He will run and go get somebody and they will know to follow him. He’s trained to do that.”

The possibility of needing to save Sola’s life is also why Reggie doesn’t require a leash. Sola explained most service dogs can’t be off leash.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act website, service animals must be harnessed unless it impedes the animal’s job. Such is the case for Reggie. University police know Reggie well enough now that they don’t question why he is off a leash.

“Reggie was trained to be off leash because if he’s running through the park and gets his leash caught on something, that shuts the whole show down right there,” Sola said.

Fortunately, Sola has never experienced a horrific event that would require Reggie to save his life, but he claims Reggie helps everyday with companionship or if he hurts his foot, for example. Reggie will hear his voice and come immediately to aid his owner.

“He’ll start licking and he’ll jump right up in my chair,” Sola said. “He’s so attuned to what I’m feeling, it’s unbelievable. He’ll offer support. He’s basically coming up and licking my face because he wants to support me.”

But most importantly and profoundly for Sola, Reggie has been a positive force on the student body. He said it is his favorite part about spending time with Reggie.

Since he first created the Facebook page in March 2017, students eagerly run across campus to pet Reggie, the cuddly campus corgi, and for just a few minutes forget about the stresses of coursework, extracurriculars and social struggles.  

Rackham student Flynn Darby surprised his corgi-loving girlfriend, Kinesiology alum Andrea Kooistra, by bringing Reggie and Sola to her birthday last October. Medical student Mark-Anthony Lingaya purchased his own corgi puppy and received extensive advice from Sola on where to purchase it. For others, seeing Reggie simply brightens their day.

“Reggie created his own group here, he fulfills a need,” Sola said. “There’s a student body here and they need a dog like Reggie. I usually just want the interaction to be between them and Reggie, because that’s therapy. That’s why we call him the therapy dog. I want them to have that experience.”

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Reggie gets treats from his owner, Michael Sola.

Reggie gets treats from his owner, Michael Sola. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

Sola became interested in photography when he traveled throughout Asia, going to Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, taking portraits of both the scenery and people he met. His appreciation for photographing the everyday scenery overseas carried over to his life and passions in Ann Arbor.

For Sola, there isn’t anything drastically different about what he’s been doing during the past year and a half. Despite the creation of the Facebook page and students’ affinity toward his dog, he’s doing what he’s been doing for the past six years — walking around campus with Reggie.

When Ngo helped him develop the Facebook page, he had no idea how popular it would become — it eventually reached Facebook’s cap for 5,000 friends by the midpoint of summer 2017.

“I’ve been bringing him on campus and he goes virtually everywhere I go,” Sola said. “He’d walk around without the leash so (the students would) find this corgi, and say, ‘Wow what’s this?’… The common question even now is, ‘Do you own that dog?’”

Sola said he often jokes in response by saying, “Do you own that dog?”

Ngo, too, was particularly surprised how rapidly Reggie gained popularity on campus.

“I thought it would be popular for a couple days,” Ngo said. “I didn’t anticipate Reggie continuously being a meme. I never thought everybody would be like, ‘Oh my god! It’s Reggie.’”

Ngo, who worked in the Billiards Room at the Union all throughout college, met Sola her freshman year, calling him one of a handful of regulars who frequented the historic spot on campus.

Sola was the first to initiate a conversation during Ngo’s freshman year after seeing her laptop covered from top to bottom with corgi stickers.

“Michael finally walked up and said, ‘Wait a second, I have a corgi,’” Ngo said. “We kept talking about how it’s so easy to get on campus and distract (passersby), just because so many people want to pet their dog when they’re walking. You know someone is going to stop and talk to you. And that’s when I mentioned, ‘You should honestly walk him through campus and you never know how many students will stop by.’”

In the years leading up to the creation of the Facebook page, Ngo said, Sola loved seeing how happy Reggie made everyone around campus.

“That’s when I finally said, ‘You really should make a Facebook page or something. You’d get so much more show for your photography.’”

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Flynn Darby knew how much his girlfriend Andrea Kooistra loved corgis and Reggie in particular. She is a member of multiple corgi Facebook groups and loves seeing Reggie on campus. Consequently, he invited Sola to participate in Kooistra’s 21st birthday festivities.

While Kooistra had seen and spent a great deal of time with Reggie on campus, Darby’s first encounter with Reggie was when he threw her the surprise birthday party.

“It was a surprise,” Darby said. “And 15 minutes before party started, (Sola) came and then Andrea had 15 minutes of Reggie to herself. She took lots of pictures and then everyone came over and had a great time. (Sola and Reggie) ended up staying for about a half hour.”

Sola has seen Reggie’s impact to a different extent on campus; he says that he has begun to see more corgis around campus and knows three different Ann Arbor community members people who have purchased corgis since meeting Reggie.

One such person was Lingaya, who sought Sola’s advice about where to find a dog. Lingaya had always wanted a dog growing up but never had one of his own. It wasn’t until he neared graduation that he began to look into buying a puppy.

Sola offered advice on where to search (on Facebook) and the types of breeders (those who breed for temperament) to seek out. These tips proved invaluable when Lingaya finally found King, his six-month-old puppy. King and Reggie have met multiple times and, according to Lingaya, are great friends.

Lingaya and Sola bonded because, as Lingaya recalls, they spoke about spending time in the Philippines where Lingaya lived for a few years and Sola had visited on vacation. Lingaya always loved seeing Reggie and as a result became closer with Sola, too.

“One day when I saw him I went up to him and said, ‘Oh you have the cutest dog ever,’” Lingaya said. “I talked to him when I decided I really wanted to get a puppy and so I went to him with those questions of where to get one.”

Lingaya said Sola was extremely helpful and receptive.

“He even checked in to see how the process was going in terms of looking for the puppy, which I really appreciated,” he said. “You could also tell he was really looking out for me because he didn’t want me to fall into trap to the scams that happen when you get a new puppy.”

Business senior Maureen Wu is always excited to see Reggie on campus.

“I like Reggie because it’s nice to see a cute and friendly face on the middle of the Diag,” Wu said. “He and his owner are always super friendly.”

Engineering senior Justin Pawloski loves seeing Reggie because he said it brings him joy and fulfillment.

“Reggie inspired me to be who I am today,” Palowski said. “He’s just such a cute and little corgi. He should’ve been president, he is the greatest of all time.”

Sola hopes Reggie continues to impact the campus.

“Hopefully, this will become Corgi Campus,” Sola said with a smile. “What if there were just 10 corgis that were just periodically going through the campus?”

Some may reason that petting a dog for just a few minutes hardly qualifies as therapy. Sola though, would disagree, and he has the evidence to prove it.

“I’ve had mothers (of University students), actually, a number of times, message me to tell me how grateful and how thankful they are that I bring Reggie down here because their daughter or their son is having a horrible semester,” Sola said. “They’re stressed and every time they see Reggie they have a good day.”

In fact, Sola has been approached about partnering with mental health organizations on campus. For Sola though, Reggie’s role on campus is unique and best independent from existing mental health support organizations, where he believes their resources exhaust what Reggie could offer.

“I’m retired, so I have the time to walk around here, walk around campus, then go home and process the pictures,” Sola said. “You see everybody walking through the Diag and they’re all happy and everything, but in their mind they’re worrying about their tests or their relationships or their finances. I’ve learned that. Reggie’s clientele is the students on campus. And I think I’d rather keep it that way, too.”

Other students like Lingaya believe Reggie truly has clout on campus. Some people on campus might not know Shea Patterson plays quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines, but everyone seems to know Reggie, whether you’ve just begun at the University or are in your final year.

“Reggie’s a member of the community,” Lingaya said. “I’d even go as far to say that he is a celebrity. Most people on campus know who Reggie is even if they haven’t seen him. People who haven't seen him want to see him, people who have seen him want to see him again. It’s the smile that stays. It actually helps their mental health and mental well-being which I think is why people have accepted Reggie.”

Reggie poses on the Diag.

Reggie poses on the Diag. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

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Part of what makes Reggie such a staple of campus is his accessibility. Because Reggie is not on a leash, he can roam freely around the Diag and other parts of the U-M campus essentially untamed.

The students have grown to enjoy this aspect of their favorite campus corgi.

“I think it’s welcoming that he’s not on a leash,” Kooistra said. “Because if a dog is on a leash, it’s kinda intimidating to go up and ask if you can pet the dog, but since Reggie is so free roaming, it’s just very inviting to go and pet.”

When scrolling on facebook, posts can seem monotonous. There is the off-kilter political post from your crazy uncle, an infinite amount of pictures from last week’s tailgate and random memes your little brother tags you in. Yet through it all, there is Reggie the Campus Corgi pictured with smiling students, who for a moment lack a care in the world.

“It’s such a charismatic figure to look forward to on your timeline,” Kooistra said. “It’s the reason why I think it was shared so many times and seen by so many people.”

As Welcome Week comes to an end and Syllabus Week turns to midterm season, Reggie Bee and Michael Sola will be there waiting. Reggie will be on the Diag or near the Union, roaming and stoking out treats from friendly and upbeat students. Sola will be there too, sitting on a bench some feet away, just as eager to spark up conversation with U-M students.

It may be worth speaking to him or spending time with Reggie.

It may just make you want your own dog, or — if you’re lucky — spend time with him on your birthday.

Lingaya sums it up best: “I feel like now Michigan isn’t Michigan without mentioning Reggie.”