UNA welcomes the ‘First Dog’

Emma Tanner, Volunteer Writer

Next to Leo’s enclosure, a Goldendoodle puppy spends her mornings playing with toys and greeting students as they pass by. The playful pooch has been spotted on the front lawn of the President’s House intermittently throughout the fall semester, tail wagging and tongue lolling.

At only seven months old and barely knee-high, Allie, which is short for Allie-bama, a name to represent the state, has become a loyal pet to President Ken Kitts and his family. What is most unique about Allie is that she is the first dog to reside in the President’s House, making her the “First Dog” twice over.

The family began residing in the President’s House in March of 2015 when Kitts took over as the new president of the University of North Alabama. The Kitts’ already own a special needs cat named Eleven, who they adore. 

This past summer, they began looking for a more affectionate pet that was less independent and would engage more with the family. They also wanted to make the house feel more like a home to their two young sons, Colin and Corbin. The boys are also the youngest children to have ever resided in the President’s House. A dog seemed to be the perfect solution to broaden their family. 

“[Adopting Allie] has done exactly what we hoped it would do and what we needed it to do,” President Kitts said. “The boys are engaged with her in a way that they really haven’t been with the cat.”

Allie has taken life at UNA by storm. According to President and Mrs. Kitts, she has not missed a beat since being brought into the home. 

Allie has quickly made a place for herself within the family. Allie is also a very playful puppy. The household has had to adjust to her energy. She constantly brings them various toys and objects in an attempt to play, but they say it was the energy they needed in their home. 

Despite Allie high-spirited energy, she is actually very well behaved. She sleeps through the night, is potty trained and is very observant of what is going on around her. Allie does not bark at visitors, but greets them happily. She and Eleven have even found a way to coexist relatively well. Allie is very demure with the cat and gives him a wide berth when the two are in the same room.

“The day that we picked her up, we arrived in the driveway and I remember we were out back,” Mrs. Kitts said. “[Colin, Corbin and Allie] were running around together like they had known each other all of their lives.”

The President’s House is a focal point for many student activities and the university itself. It stands tall between Harrison Plaza and the George H. Carroll Lion Habitat, where Leo III resides. Any visitors of the university pass by it, and if they are lucky, are greeted by Allie. 

The house was built in 1940 and follows an American-colonial architectural style and has housed six presidents – including the Kitts’. Both President and Mrs. Kitts hold many events at their home that involve students. Student groups (UNA International and the Honors College), the Shoals community and various leaders are welcomed at the historic house. They have hosted lunches on their front lawn and marshmallow roasting on their back patio. The Kitts’ love and promote student engagement and have already used Allie to interact with students in the five months she has been with them. She quickly adapted to being around college students and soaks up their attention every chance she gets. 

The word Mrs. Kitts uses to describe Allie? Serendipitous. 

Allie was clearly meant to be with the family. She thrives at UNA and helps the family thrive, too. She connected with them from the moment she arrived. She even welcomes President Kitts home every day. The little brown puppy has an undeniable energy that reflects onto the people she is around. Even when first meeting someone, she is excited, friendly and outgoing. Allie has proven to be quite the social butterfly. 

“Allie makes you feel like you’re the coolest person in the world,” Mrs. Kitts said. “She could not see you for ten minutes and then you walk into the room… it’s like ‘Wow, am I really that great?’” 

Of course, Allie has her favorites. She loves playing catch in the backyard, which she was not even taught to do. Colin and Corbin have taught her to play her favorite game, which is hide-and-seek. Her favorite person is Mrs. Kitts, who credits this to the fact that she feeds Allie. She also loves the bacon-flavored treats she gets as a reward for going outside. 

“Allie has helped us make the President’s House our home,” President Kitts said. “We are unique in that we have the youngest children who have ever lived here, and they have grown up here for seven years. It’s a wonderful, beautiful home, but it can be a challenge creating a family environment here on a college campus. Having her… that’s what a home has.”

Allie can also help the students feel at home on campus. As of 2020, 26% of undergraduate students lived on campus or in campus-affiliated housing. It is hard for many students to feel at home in a new place, and seeing Allie on campus every morning may help ease the transition. Students, both residents and commuters, have many opportunities to meet the new “First Dog.” Most mornings, she will be out in the front yard. As previously mentioned, she will also be at any event that takes place at the President’s House. There have already been two events on the front lawn that Allie has been present for. The students who have already met her love her — she steals the show wherever she is.

The Kitts’ have plans for Allie outside of school events as well. They plan to have Allie registered as a therapy dog at local hospitals. Therapy dogs are trained to provide affection, comfort and support to people in need in places like hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, schools and hospices. They are proven to reduce stress physiologically and increase attachment responses that release Oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust. Allie already meets those criteria for the Kitts family, and they want her to share that love with those in need. 

Allie, the “adorable and loyal” pet to the President, could quickly become a staple of UNA for years to come. Her presence could also create a tradition for future UNA presidents. Dogs are often seen around campus. People bring their pets for walks around the university regularly; they can easily be spotted around Harrison Plaza and other popular areas. The new dog is a welcomed sight on campus, and the Kitts’ love the positive reception to her from faculty, staff and students alike. So, if you see Allie on your way to class or at an event, snap a picture and say hello. She is just as happy to meet you.