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2022: Sandy McConnell ’97: The Bitch

McConnell and his dog, Homer, attend UMassD’s 2022 convocation event to calm freshmen’s nerves.

Over the past five years, Sandy McConnell ’97 has trained more than 1,000 dogs, including 20 for therapy and service roles, like Gracie, a full-time UMassD employee, at a company she founded and owns in Dartmouth, Southcoast Dog Training & Care. Between each dog’s network, it has likely had a positive impact on tens of thousands of human lives since 2017 alone.

desire to make a difference

McConnell has been giving back in one way or another his entire adulthood, joining the US Army National Guard in Alabama when he was 22, where he first acquired his passion for training.

“I joined the Guard because I really wanted to feel like I was making a difference in the world. I had gained instructional training experience in the military, which I really enjoyed because I was able to help people improve their skills and open more paths for themselves.” themselves,” McConnell said. “After this experience, I knew I wanted to dig deeper and explore a career in training, so I took up human resource management at Charlton College of Business.”

Human resources management

A degree in human resource management not only teaches the creative, psychological, and “right brain” skills necessary to train and develop others, it completely ingratiates students with the financial, accounting, and business operations analytical curricula of the ” Left Brain” needed to effectively manage a start-up company. A year after graduating from UMass Dartmouth, McConnell took a gamble on herself, starting computer training companies and later as a physical trainer on the South Coast.

“Being able to train people, regardless of their industry, work experience, or physical fitness, was very rewarding because I was able to help them achieve their goals and become better versions of themselves,” McConnell said. “Studying human resource management definitely taught me the sociological and business lessons necessary to run my own companies for the last 24 years.”

A quarter of a century later, she is still her own boss today.

training dogs

After 16 years training humans, McConnell began volunteering as a weekend service puppy breeder for the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) Training Puppies to help people with physical and psychological disabilities.

“NEADS service dogs are raised by inmates in prisons on weekdays and evenings,” McConnell said. “NEADS then asks for volunteers on the weekends to introduce them to all the sights, sounds, and smells of the world that will eventually help their humans navigate, and skills like picking things up, turning on light switches, getting medicine, grabbing drinks from a refrigerator. , get help, alert on alarms, retrieve and transport items, and much more.”

McConnell successfully bred two dogs for NEADS before being assigned to Homer, the Chocolate Lab pictured below:



As a part-time employee for the StressLess, Convocation, and Commencement events, Homer sports his very own UMass Pass.

“Homer had some medical issues that kept him from doing some service work, so I ended up adopting him myself,” McConnell said. “Service dogs have to focus on helping a person who needs help, but Homer loves people and other dogs, which makes him a natural therapy dog. He’s great at comforting others and spreading joy, and knows a lot of fun tricks that put smiles on people’s faces.”

Having her own dog meant McConnell could no longer raise future service puppies on the weekends, as they need individual attention. Skilled at training humans and dogs alike, and after developing such a passion for breeding dogs to aid the physical and psychological well-being of humans, McConnell founded Southcoast Dog Training & Care, which has been named the “Best of the Best” pet “from SouthCoastToday. coaches for the last four years. The company, located less than five miles from the UMassD campus, trains companion dogs as well as therapy and service dogs.

returning to campus

Sandy and Homer are regular guests on campus, joining STEM Learning Lab Associate Director Chris Peter and “STEM Lab” Gracie for “No Stress” days, hosted by the university’s counseling center. once a month during the fall and spring semesters, and making special visits during events like convocation, finals week, and graduation to calm students’ nerves.

The “Canine Corsairs” from left to right: Gracie, Homer, Kali and Bonnie.

“Science has shown that petting therapy with animals can improve a person’s mood through the release of oxytocin and serotonin,” said Peter. “Therapy dogs like Gracie and Homer offer love and acceptance to everyone. Students can be themselves, whether they are stressed, happy or sad. They are accepted just the way they are, and people instinctively feel this uplifting interaction.” state of mind”.

“Going back to my alma mater and seeing the students light up as they interact with Homer and Gracie is inherently rewarding,” McConnell said. “It makes me feel good to be able to help put a smile on someone’s face. It’s a lot of fun for them and for us too.”

Gracie and Kali, another McConnell alumna, on “No Stress” day outside the Campus Center auditorium.

Students interested in seeing “Canine Corsairs” Homer and Gracie on campus should keep an eye out for “StressLess” days on the college events calendar. Stress-Free Fall Days are tentatively scheduled for September 28, October 19, and December 6 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm in the Grove, around the fireplace and upstairs lounge. Dates and times are subject to change.

Students interested in visiting a therapy dog ​​on other days can schedule office hours with Gracie through TutorTrac. Visit the STEM Learning Lab Website and click the “schedule appointment” button in the upper right corner to view open appointments.

Dog owners interested in McConnell’s services can visit SouthCoastDog.com for more information on services, fees and hours.


Homer punches a student at the Convocation.

McConnell with Homer at the Convocation.



Alumni, Alumni – Home, Charlton College of Business, Date: Year 2022, Departments Charlton College of Business, Functions, UMassD – Home


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