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Therapy dog gets new name and new home at ETSU

Brandon Paykamian • Feb 20, 2020 at 7:30 AM

After hundreds of suggestions from the campus community, East Tennessee State University’s new therapy dog finally has a new name — Pepper. 

“We had about 500 names submitted, and Pepper was at the top of the list. We kept narrowing it down, and people kept wanting Pepper,” Capt. Mark Tipton said Wednesday. “Back from 1980 to about 1991, we had a mascot here that was a yellow bird. Its name was Pepper. We thought it was fitting, so that’s what we went with.”

Pepper was brought to ETSU with the help of the Paws and Stripes Comfort Dog Program, a program that trains dogs for departments and other organizations across the country. Through the program, Tipton said dogs like Pepper are trained for a few months in Orlando, Florida, before officers train with them for a week and bring them back to their respective departments.

Pepper arrived in Johnson City on Saturday. She’s already making herself at home at ETSU and with Officer Bill Mitchell, her handler who she stays with.

“She’s already settling in,” Mitchell said of the Labrador-pitbull mix, who turns 2 Saturday.

Tipton said Pepper has been acquainting herself with students and faculty at several buildings throughout campus since she’s arrived, and has already won people over with her gentle nature and charm.

“She’s just a hit so far,” he said. “You just take her out there, and she’s a magnet.

“I knew it would be a huge hit with the kids.”

Pepper is not a trained K-9 and will not be assisting police in investigations or arrests, but Tipton said supporting students’ emotional well-being is an important public safety matter.

Pepper will serve as an emotional support dog for the campus community and will be available to any student or faculty member who needs to see her, whether they've been a victim of a crime or have had a stressful day.

Pepper will also serve as an ambassador for ETSU and the campus police, according to Tipton.

“It makes the officer more approachable. Once they see her and talk to her, then they get to talk to the officer and see we’re just like them, we just have a job to do,” he said. “It makes the interactions between the students and the officer a little better.”

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