Meet Charlotte a 5-year-old beagle with a secret

With his dog Charlotte by his side, counselor Justin Graves sat in an elevator at the Virginia Beach Hilton Oceanfront holding his breath as the manager of the hotel stepped inside. Graves silently held up two fingers, the sign he had taught Charlotte to mean sit. He hoped she would listen. Charlotte calmly sat down. She silently stared at Justin for the entire elevator ride. Their secret was safe.

Their secret: Charlotte, a 5-year-old beagle-hound mix, isn’t actually a service dog. Even despite her black vest. Graves had led the “no pets allowed” hotel to believe this so Charlotte could enjoy a trip to the beach with him.

Charlotte sniffing outside of the East AJ dorms at Virginia Tech. Photo by Ana Hunter

This was not the first time Charlotte had played the role of a service dog.

“I was at Petsmart one time getting her bathed, because I’m too lazy to do it myself, and I saw a lot of black vests, and I thought how cool would it be if people thought she was a service dog,” Graves said. “It gets her into a lot of places she isn’t supposed to be.”

While an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, Graves, now a first-year master’s student, decided he wanted a dog. He started looking around local shelters for dogs that were three to four years-old, independent and accustomed to his wheelchair. It was during this time that he talked to his friend, Billy Petre. Petre had owned Charlotte since she was a puppy but had to give her to his parents when he moved to a new place. Since Graves’ townhouse welcomed pets and he had known Charlotte since she was a puppy, he had found his dog.

“(Petre) said he really trusted me to take care of Charlotte and the rest is history,” Graves said. “I’ve had her since last August.”

Over that time, Charlotte has developed certain favorite activities, which include eating and sleeping.

“If I put a 10-pound bag of dog food in front of her she would eat it all. She has thrown up before because of eating too much,” Graves said. “I’ve come home a lot and can tell she has just been sleeping or is sleeping.”

Charlotte has adjusted well to life in a dorm room. She often will sleep in her dog bed or lie in her crate. The bedroom she and Graves share in his townhouse is similar in size to the dorm they are staying in for jCamp; however she also enjoys running through the halls of the building, which is larger than Graves’s townhouse.

“Charlotte is a pretty well-adjusted dog,” Graves said. “She has seen a lot of the world.”

Graves finds having a dog can be a great icebreaker.

“Charlotte does have a Facebook and it’s a great conversation starter,” Graves said. “She is legitimately more popular than me.”

Owning a pet isn’t a walk in the park though.Taking care of another living being is a large responsibility. Graves gets help from his neighbors and friends, including Kristen Haas, a recent Tech graduate. Haas helps take care of Charlotte almost every day, feeding, playing or taking her out. She shares the workload with Graves.

Charlotte hangs out with camper Sam Smith on the second floor of East Ambler Johnston at Virginia Tech. Photo by Deepa Shivaram

Not every potential dog owner may be able to find friends to help them out. Haas recommended thinking carefully before adopting a dog.

“People should work really hard to gather info before putting themselves with the responsibility,” Haas said.

Haas has also worked at an animal shelter in the area and has seen many pets dropped off at the start of summer. She said she’s seen a lot of kittens and puppies because many people don’t get their pets spayed or neutered. However, if students are ready for the challenge, Haas sees many benefits in having pets.

“I think if they’re allowed by the university everyone should have one,” Haas said. “The emotional rewards greatly outweigh the work and responsibility. Pets are always there for you.”

While all pets may not be able to be as theatrical as Charlotte, many can still be a joy to have in a dorm.

“Pets are the prime example of unconditional love,” Graves said. “In a nutshell, I would definitely recommend having a pet in college.”


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