collage of two pugs and a guinea pig

On this Valentine's Day -- sharing the love of our furry friends!

Penn State Scranton students, staff and faculty share the love -- for their pets -- in this special Valentine's Day feature.

DUNMORE, Pa. – Love knows no bounds, and for the Penn State Scranton community, that love extends to their cherished pets. On this Valentine’s Day, some of our faculty, staff and students share heartwarming stories about their furry friends, highlighting the joy and companionship they bring. 

Agnes Kim, associate professor of physics, shared her story of adopting pandemic kittens amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 era. After losing their beloved cat in 2015, Kim and her husband felt hesitant to welcome new pets due to their busy schedules. However, almost a year into the pandemic, they decided it was the perfect time to expand their family and adopted two littermates, Coco and Momo. 

Describing her furry companions, Kim recounted Coco’s curious antics, like getting his head stuck in a tissue box, and Momo’s nurturing nature, considering Kim to be “her own kitten,” she said. “She will often come and get me when she feels I have been away from the nest (our den and home office) for too long,” Kim said. 

woman cuddles two grey kittens

Associate Professor of Physics Agnès Kim with her cuddle bugs Momo and Coco. 

Credit: Penn State

The feline duo has become an integral part of Kim’s life, even making appearances on Canvas tiles for her courses.  

“I mention them in class, and that often prompts my students to share pet stories with me,” Kim said, highlighting the joy and connection Coco and Momo bring not only to her but also to her students. With routines and rituals intertwined, Kim cherishes the special bond she shares with her pandemic kittens, finding solace and companionship during uncertain times. 

Stephanie Longo, adjunct lecturer of corporate communication, welcomed Duke, her beloved two-year-old Maremma Abruzzese Sheepdog, into her life after adopting him from Blue Chip Animal Shelter in Dallas. Duke’s journey from rescue to cherished family member is nothing short of miraculous.  

“When we got him, his tail was spray-painted green for St. Patrick’s Day, and he was very underweight,” Longo recalled.  

Duke’s endearing presence extends beyond the confines of Longo’s home, as he assumes the role of her “unofficial teaching assistant” during online classes.  “The reason why I say this is that he inevitably barks every time I teach and, even though I am upstairs, and he is downstairs either with my mom or my husband, the class can hear him,” she said.  

Although Duke’s enthusiastic barks punctuate Longo’s lectures, it has endeared him to her students.  

“The students came to love Duke, too, and would ask me to share pictures on Zoom or even bring him to campus,” Longo said, reflecting on the bond Duke fosters with her academic community.  

With his charming nickname ‘Mister Cha Cha’ and playful demeanor, Duke enriches Longo’s life with joy and companionship, embodying the resilience and spirit of rescue pets everywhere. 

woman smiles with her white dog by her side

Corporate Communication Adjunct Lecturer Stephanie Longo’s dog, Duke, is the king of napping on the couch. 

Credit: Penn State

Student Amber Noldy has always had a deep love for dogs, and says her life was forever changed when her father surprised her with her beloved golden retriever Bailey as a Christmas present in 2022. Reflecting on that memorable moment, Noldy recalls the overwhelming joy she felt when Bailey first entered their home, marking the beginning of a profound bond. 

Bailey’s presence has become a source of solace and support for Amber during her academic journey.  

girl holding her golden retriever dog

Penn State Scranton student Amber Noldy loves her golden retriever, Bailey. 

Credit: Penn State

“Having my dog has impacted my life at Penn State Scranton in so many ways,” Noldy said, highlighting the comfort and reassurance Bailey provides during moments of stress and worry.  

Whether it’s comforting Noldy during exam preparations or enjoying playful activities together such as playing ball, Bailey’s unwavering companionship enriches Noldy’s life with love and joy, proving the transformative power of the human-animal bond. 

Julie Cardillo, enrollment services specialist said Dusty, her silver dapple dachshund mini, has quickly become an inseparable part of her life.  

Despite being a self-professed cat person, Cardillo’s boyfriend, Bryan, led her to embrace their shared passion for dogs, particularly dachshunds. Their journey took a delightful turn last September when they found Dusty. 

With Dusty’s playful antics and endearing personality, Cardillo and Bryan have created countless cherished memories, including a comical encounter with Santa Claus during a Christmas photoshoot where Dusty attempted to tug at Santa’s beard.  

Dusty’s adventurous spirit extends to Penn State, where he enthusiastically attended his first football game last season, marking the beginning of many future PSU adventures.  

girl in penn state gear holds her mini dachshund puppy

Enrollment Services Specialist Julie Cardillo and her pup, Dusty, repping their Penn State Pride. 

Credit: Penn State

Cardillo eagerly anticipates introducing Dusty to the Penn State Scranton community. With Dusty by their side, Cardillo and Bryan said they have joy and companionship in every adventure. 

Meg Hatch, associate professor of biology at Penn State Scranton, shared her journey with her beloved dogs, Blossom and Bailea.  

Inspired by her desire for companionship and a furry friend to accompany her on walks, Hatch adopted Blossom from a local rescue in 2009, marking the beginning of a transformative bond. Blossom’s love for the snow and her curious habit of sampling it every few feet during walks brought joy and laughter to Hatch’s life, creating cherished memories of their adventures together. 

Four years later, Hatch thought Blossom might like company, so she adopted Bailea. “Blossom was at least one year old when I adopted her, but Bailea was a puppy who was born at a rescue,” Hatch said.  

two side by side photos of woman working with two different dogs in a competition

Associate Professor of Biology Meg Hatch’s dog, Blossom, using her powerful nose in a competition and Bailea, receiving an Agility Trial Championship ribbon.

Credit: Penn State

Beyond providing companionship, Blossom and Bailea have significantly impacted Hatch’s experience at Penn State Scranton, helping her achieve a better work-life balance and providing moments of relaxation and reflection during walks.  

“Walking them also helps me think and unwind,” Hatch said, highlighting the therapeutic benefits of spending time with her canine companions.  

Hatch’s special bond with her pets extends to their shared passion for dog sports, including obedience, rally obedience, agility, and nose work. Through training and competing together, Hatch finds fulfillment and joy, celebrating the remarkable journey they’ve embarked on as a team. 

Mar Tsakonas, athletics administrative support assistant at Penn State Scranton, found her beloved canine companion, Scotty, during a volunteer outing with the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) at Griffin Pond Animal Shelter.  

It was during a tour of the shelter’s dog adoption room that Tsakonas’s eyes met Scotty’s, and an instant connection was formed. “Something just kept drawing me in his direction,” Tsakonas said, reminiscing about the moment Scotty’s tail wagged with excitement as she crouched down to his level. 

“I got to meet him briefly before we left and that night I submitted an application to formally adopt him and my application was approved less than 24 hours later. I went up to Griffin Pond that Sunday and took him home that day,” she said. 

smiling woman and her dog

Administrative Support Assistant and Athletics Head Coach Mar Tsakonas poses with her dog, Scotty. 

Credit: Penn State

Amidst the joys of their companionship, Tsakonas fondly recounted a humorous anecdote from their time together, recalling Scotty’s amusing attempt to dig the “bones” out of his little doggy pool during the summer. Despite the initial confusion, Scotty’s playful antics bring laughter and warmth to Tsakonas’s life.  

Reflecting on the impact Scotty has had on her experience, Tsakonas expresses gratitude for the opportunity to give him a second chance at a good life and for the companionship he provides. From going on walks to enjoying dinner and playtime together, Tsakonas and Scotty share a special bond built on love, laughter and endless cuddles. 

“Having Scotty has impacted my experience because I never would have met him had it not been for our SAAC volunteer days and I honestly couldn’t be more grateful to be given the opportunity to give him a second chance at a good life but also to have a companion again,” she said. 

John Mellow, an adult learner at Penn State Scranton, recounted the gripping tale of Tang, his enigmatic orange long-haired cat who ventured into the unknown and returned with a new history of his own.  

An open front door set the stage for a neighborhood-wide adventure, with Tang leading the charge into a wintry landscape. Despite being lost in the snowstorm for months, Tang emerged victorious, although with a newfound temperament that left little room for tolerance, even towards his fellow household inhabitants. 

However, upon a visit to the veterinarian, a startling revelation unfolded. “Tang was not the original Tang at all!” Mellow said. 

In a twist of fate, Tang had been replaced by a feral doppelgänger, now affectionately dubbed as “Tang Version 2.0,” Mellow said.  

Yet, amidst the chaos and confusion, Tang ensures that Mellow is always awake and ready for his morning classes. “Perhaps [Tang is] motivated by the promise of replenished food bowls or simply to bask in his human’s company,” Mellow said.  

Tang’s story is a testament to the unpredictability of life with pets and the things pet owners will do to accommodate their furry family members, as well as the cheerful journey of pet ownership. 

man holds large orange tabby cat

Penn State Scranton’s adult learner John Mellow holds his fluffy orange cat, Tang. 

Credit: Penn State

Mary Sochovka, a financial assistant in the bursar and finance office, found solace and joy in the companionship of her beloved golden retriever, Ned.  

Named after her father, Ned arrived during a tumultuous time, bringing a ray of sunshine into Sochovka’s life after eight years without a pet. Despite his hefty 75-pound frame, Ned’s affectionate nature knows no bounds, often insisting on being as close to Sochovka as possible, earning him the endearing nickname ‘Needy Ned.’ 

Ned’s outgoing personality and love for walks have made him a beloved figure in the neighborhood, where he shines as the unofficial ambassador, charming neighbors with his irresistible charm and winning doggie smiles. Adding to his charm is how he eagerly anticipates treats from each neighbor, who happily oblige, further solidifying his status as the “neighborhood’s star.”  

woman hugs her golden retriever

Financial Assistant Mary Sochovka hugging her adorable pup, Ned. 

Credit: Penn State

Through his unwavering affection and playful antics, Ned brings light and laughter to Sochovka’s life, proving that even in the darkest of times, the love of a loyal companion can make all the difference. 

IT Director Marilee Mulvey and her family recently welcomed a new family member into their lives -- Mack, a spirited brittany puppy.  Mack’s playful antics and mischievous charm quickly won over their hearts, bringing joy and laughter into their household.  

“Happiness is a warm puppy,” Mulvey said, encapsulating the impact Mack has had on their lives. From Mack’s exuberant greetings, to his adventurous spirit, she fondly recalls memorable moments shared with her furry friend.  

Mack’s boundless energy and love for playtime bring warmth and happiness to Mulvey’s daily routine.  

“I've had quite a few dogs in my lifetime, but I've never had a dog that likes to play like Mack. He greets me when I get home with his favorite ball in his mouth, ready to play,” Mulvey said. “He jumps like he thinks he can fly and when he was eight weeks old, he climbed a six-foot chain-link fence to attempt to escape his outdoor dog pen. He loves to be outside, and I can't wait until the weather is nicer! He's going to love springtime in northeast PA!” 

With nightly rituals of picking up toys and mornings filled with playful antics, Mulvey said she cherishes every moment spent with Mack, celebrating the joy and companionship he brings to their lives. 

brown and white dog at attention

Director of Information Technology and IT Adjunct Support Instructor Marilee Mulvey’s dog showing off his adorable puppy dog eyes. 

Credit: Penn State

System Administrator for IT Support Rob Notari also has some furry companions who bring joy and laughter to his home and work life.  

Yoda is a spirited nine-year-old pug with a penchant for mischief and a love for his little green spiked ball. From charming his way into being carried during walks to testing the noise cancellation on Zoom calls with his loud snores, Yoda fills the Notari household with love and joy, proving that age is just a number when it comes to spreading happiness. 

Joining Yoda in spreading smiles in the Notari household is Chewbacca, the three-year-old pug mix who became an essential part of the Notari family during the long days of COVID. Providing emotional support during Zoom meetings and snuggling up on laps, Chewbacca embodies the comforting presence of a loyal companion.  

And then there’s Peach, the one-year-old guinea pig with the “heart of a pug,” as Notari says, who adds her unique charm to the home office. With her impressive typing skills (two words per minute!), Peach may not be the fastest typist, but her dedication to helping out is undeniable.  

collage of two pugs and a guinea pig

Information Technology Support and System Administrator Rob Notari’s lovable pugs, Chewie and Yoda, and guinea pig, Peaches. 

Credit: Penn State

Together, Yoda, Chewbacca and Peach form a trio of snorting, lovable balls of fur that brighten every moment for the Notari family and their colleagues. 

Teaching Professor and Program Coordinator of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) Janet Melnick has found joy and solace in her Siamese cats, Hazel and Fiona. 

Having had Siamese cats for many years, her love for feline companionship never waned. 

After the passing of her beloved cat Cali, she couldn’t bear to be without kitties. That's when she stumbled upon information from ‘Meezers Express,’ which led her to rescue Fiona and Hazel from a Siamese Rescue in Virginia. 

Known for their distinctive “apple heads,” Fiona and Hazel are traditional Siamese cats that have become the center of attention in Melnick’s household. 

Expressing gratitude for her furry companions, Melnick said, “Thank God, I have them. They make my house a home and are very loving.” 

A self-proclaimed cat enthusiast, Melnick revealed her commitment to caring for her pets. 

"My life revolves around them. My students know I am cat crazy. They are my babies,” she said. “I feed and brush them every day. I even bought a birdhouse for them, so they can be occupied throughout the day watching their ‘Kitty TV.’” 

Also passionate about animal rescue, Melnick encourages others to follow suit. “I’m all about rescues,” she said, emphasizing her love for all animals. 

With her license plate proudly proclaiming ‘Meow-Mom,’ Melnick exemplifies not only a dedicated pet owner but also an advocate for the well-being of all animals, urging everyone to consider adoption when bringing a new furry friend into their homes. 

two Siamese cats

Teaching Professor and Program Coordinator of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) Janet Melnick Siamese cats, Hazel and Fiona, bring her feline companionship and joy.

Credit: Penn State

Senior English major River Backman is not only passionate about literature but also about animal welfare, as evidenced by her tales of rescue and companionship with her beloved cat, Grey, and puggle, Bonnie.  

Recounting Bonnie’s journey to their home, Backman said, “My puggle, Bonnie, was rescued in 2014. Her original owner left her with a roommate who couldn’t afford dog food, so she and her sister, Bella, were only being fed table scraps.” 

Despite the challenging circumstances, Backman’s family embraced Bonnie, renaming her to match her spirited personality. “Her original owners named her Bonkers, which definitely matches her personality, but we decided to call her Bonnie,” she said. 

Grey, the feline member of Backman’s family, also has a story of resilience and love.  

“My cat, Grey, was rescued in 2016,” Backman said. “She was an outside cat who was very friendly and seemed house-trained.” Despite efforts to locate her previous owners, Grey’s affectionate nature won over the Backman family’s hearts.  

“Because of how friendly she was, we tried to advertise online to see if we could find her owner, but no one claimed her,” Backman explained, expressing gratitude for Grey’s presence in their lives.  

Through their shared experiences, Backman, Grey and Bonnie exemplify the bond between humans and animals. 

girl hugs white faced cat and a dog sleeps

Senior english major River Backman with her cat, Grey, and her puggle, Bonnie.

Credit: Penn State

Matt Nied, director of student services and engagement, and his wife Cait, shared their journey of bringing home S'mores, a horse in need of a loving home, into their family.  

“Horses can connect with humans in a way that is hard to describe,” Nied explained. “We knew we wanted to share our passion with our children.”  

Since S’mores’ arrival at Heaven Sent Farm, the Nied family has been dedicated to his care, witnessing his transformation into a thriving and beloved member of their family. 

Reflecting on a memorable moment, Nied recounted S’mores’ gesture of licking and giving kisses to their helper (and son) Ryan – a true testament to the bond between humans and horses. 

“Farm work can be hard work, but when the horses lean in and put their heads on your chest for a scratch, you can feel their love and gratitude,” Nied said. “You can have the worst day and step into the barn, pick up a shovel and it all melts away. Horses are big and can be very intimidating at times. For them to want snuggles is a true sign of a bond that is filled with pure love!” 

collage of pictures of a horse

Director of Student Services and Engagement Matt Nied recently rescued a horse named S’Mores, pictured with his son Ryan. 

Credit: Penn State

Ray Petren, associate professor of human development and family studies, reminisced about the addition of Jango, a goldendoodle, to their family in 2015.  

“With us settling into a new home, it felt like the right time to get a dog for our son to grow up with,” Petren said. Despite some digestive mishaps and countertop adventures, Jango has become an inseparable companion, bringing joy to the entire family. 

“Jango weighs about 70 pounds, but he considers himself my lap dog. When he's feeling needy, he will jump onto my chair and ottoman with me for a petting session that he hopes will never end,” Petren said. 

collage of a black dog

Ray Petren’s dog Jango poses for a photo at various stages throughout the years. 

Credit: Penn State

Student Elizabeth Kozy found solace and companionship in two rescue kittens, Rocco and Roxy.  

“Roxy and Rocco are lovable. They always want attention, and they are the perfect cats for us,” Kozy said. 

And, the way the kittens got their names is also unique – with Roxy being named after her father's desired name for her, and Rocco after her mother's childhood dream for a pet dog. Since joining Kozy’s family, these feline siblings have brought comfort and companionship to Kozy and her mother, easing the loneliness of their empty home. 

For Kozy, having her cats by her side has been a source of stress relief amid the demands of school and work. “It's nice to come home after a long day and receive cuddles from your two friendly kittens,” she said. 

two kittens sleeping on a penn state blanket

Student Elizabeth Kozy found solace and companionship in two rescue kittens, Rocco and Roxy. 

Credit: Penn State

As Penn State Scranton celebrates Valentine’s Day, these stories serve as a reminder of the enduring bonds between humans and their furry friends, enriching lives and fostering a sense of community on campus. 

However, in addition to the companionship and enrichment factor, pets can also have an even more impactful effect on their owners’ lives, providing health benefits as well. A fact that has been scientifically proven.


Health Benefits of Pets 

Alongside these touching tales, Campus Health Services Nurse Jill Thoman and Clinical Social Worker/Mental Health Therapist Sarah Smith highlighted the health benefits of pet companionship, emphasizing its positive impact on physical and mental well-being. 

“As far as physical health benefits are concerned having a pet can help decrease heart rate and blood pressure,” Thoman said. “Walking your dog increases physical movement which can burn some extra calories and help decrease your BMI. Also, while you’re outside you may soak up some natural vitamin D (which everyone lacks in this part of the country) and will strengthen your immune system.” 

Similarly, pets also have a positive effect on mental health too. 

“I would say the biggest benefit results from the connection that people have to a pet. This connection most often causes a smile and the release of endorphins that have a calming effect,” Smith said. 

Smith explained that the first impact is that a pet helps an individual to be present and in the moment.  

“Oftentimes, a person will pet, affectionately talk to, cuddle, or hug a pet. A 10 second hug has so many healing benefits. It can increase dopamine to help a person feel good, increase serotonin that helps fight off anxiety and depression, and produce oxytocin that helps relieve stress,” she said. “We have found that when we have a Therapy Dog on campus, many students are smiling, laughing, giggling, and cuddling with dog.  They walk away from the interaction with smiles on and endorphins restored.” 

As the Penn State Scranton community pet owners celebrate this Valentine’s Day with their loved ones, which includes their beloved pets, these insights into the profound connections between humans and pets serve as a testament to the power of love – not only romantic love, but love in all forms and, especially, through our pets’ companionship in enriching our lives.