Rocky the Red Hawk may be the official mascot of Montclair State University, but there’s another fluffy friend moving in on the bird’s position as the most loved animal on campus.
Known as the big, white, marshmallow dog, Dmitri the Samoyed has been making his rounds on the Montclair State campus with his owner Edward Smith for quite a while, bringing happiness and stress relief to students, faculty and staff who stop to say hello and pet the pooch as they pass by.
Dmitri, known to friends and family as Dimi, is 10 years old and the son of two champion Samoyeds who ran the famous Iditarod dog-sledding race from Nome to Anchorage, Alaska. The breed originally hails from Siberia, Smith said, hence the canine’s Russian name.
Samoyeds can survive up to 65 degrees below zero, are one of two totally hypoallergenic breeds and can even have the hair that they shed collected and spun into yarn to make clothing.
“I used to take Dimi to Anderson Park and sometimes Brookdale, but he likes Montclair State the most,” Smith said. “He is thrilled when we drive into the parking garage and he runs his way onto campus and greets the first 10 people he sees. After that, he becomes quite chill and just says hello to anyone who shows interest.”
“Dimi loves the attention on campus,” Smith continued. “He gets a kick out of groups of girls who scream and emote on his approach and is particularly happy when people make a fuss. He knows his job in life is to be handled and loved and he gives back at every turn.”
Although Dmitri and Smith enjoy their regular constitutional in Red Hawk Country, the dog’s favorite walk, Smith confessed, is Central Park in New York City. “When we head into the Lincoln Tunnel, he gets so excited and you can tell when he sets foot on the concrete of Manhattan that he feels so sophisticated. You can almost hear his thoughts… ‘Ahhh, the opera, the ballet, the Metropolitan Museum…I love it here.’”
Dmitri is lavished with just as much attention in New York City as he is at the university, often being stopped on his four-mile loop to be greeted and photographed. “I think he’s a tourist attraction and I cannot imagine how many visitors return to their countries with pictures of the Empire State, Chrysler Building, Statue of Liberty and Dimi,” said Smith.
Dmitri’s stardom doesn’t stop there. Smith and Dimi were sitting Upper Montclair when a model taking part in a shoot for a Chase Bank advertisement noticed Dmitri’s signature good looks. A few moments later, the director for the shoot approached Smith and his four-legged friend and asked if they wanted to be in the commercial.
At first, Dmitri was just a character in the background, until Smith suggested that the actress starring in the commercial try to walk him across the street. “They did 26 takes of him pulling her slim little body across the street to get to me, standing off-camera. I laughed and laughed at this pencil-thin gal, flying down the street in four-inch heels, being tugged by a bundle of white fur.”
After three hours of filming, Dmitri got about three seconds of air time in the ad which played in 4,600 Chase branches across the country. “Dimi watched it in our local branch with all the tellers and officers of the bank. He is now a celebrity as well as a tourist attraction,” said Smith.
Dimi doesn’t let the fame and attention get to him, though. At home, he keeps it low-key, making his rounds around the yard, watching television with the family and standing beside Smith as he barbecues on the porch, watching the birds, squirrels and rabbits in the yard.
When asked about what students can do to give back to the dog that brings so much joy and comfort to those who meet him, Smith said that they would enjoy talking to students about classical antiquity, since Smith specializes in Roman architecture and its impact on Western society. “Outside of that, he simply loves being around young people who love to stroke him and give back with such enthusiasm. At ten years of age, he’s an older guy now, but like most older men, he thrives on contact with younger people and many of the students have left dogs at home and give him lots of love when they see him.”
If all else fails, Smith said that the previous Dean of Students mentioned that Montclair State might present Dmitri with an honorary degree from the university, a sure way to show the pooch that he is a true Red Hawk.
Dmitri clearly holds a special place in the heart of Montclair State and his family, who treasure him for the special impact he has on those he meets. “People who know dogs approach him with comfort but I also love when those who have little experience with dogs come to him with hesitancy,” said Smith. Watching Dmitri connect to everyone he meets, no matter where they come from, is one of the most rewarding parts of having him as a pet, Smith said.
“Some people ask how we are able to keep up with all the hair. Truth is, the shedding is nothing to the pleasure and companionship and he always gives back.”