Roxie Reno, the service dog for SVSU graduate Alan Reno, received an honorary degree from the university at the December commencement ceremony.
According to the “Resolution to Grant Honorary Degree to Roxie Rose Reno,” Roxie was given a degree because she “enabled Alan Reno to have a college experience much more like that of his peers, allowing Mr. Reno to confidently, safely, efficiently and independently participate in valued daily academic activities” and “Roxie’s incredible partnership with Mr. Reno has helped to educate many individuals on campus and throughout the Great Lakes Bay region.”
The celebration came after several months of Reno struggling to convince the SVSU Board of Control and President Donald Bachand that Roxie was a deserving candidate for the degree. After a meeting with Bachand in April, the honorary degree request was originally declined. The logic behind the rejection was that honorary degrees should be reserved for humans only.
“We were disheartened and disappointed after all the support we received from the student body, various student groups on campus and several professors to the point where we were planning on not walking at graduation,” Reno said. “We do everything together as a team or not at all.”
One such student who experienced first-hand some of the impacts Roxie made on Reno’s life, and the lives of others, was May 2016 graduate Anna Fenske, who studied accounting in her time at SVSU.
“SVSU’s dynamic duo, Alan and Roxie, could often be found on campus with a smiling face and a wagging tail,” Fenske said. “Both are incredibly intelligent and hardworking with a gift for making others feel valued. I think the biggest impact they have made on my life is to, even more, strengthen my belief that no matter your situation in life, the things you are capable of doing matter.”
Reno spent his summer certain he would not be walking at commencement without Roxie receiving any recognition. However, when he arrived back at school, he was surprisingly approached by SVSU Provost Deb Huntley, and the request was reopened and approved by the Board of Control at its Dec. 16 meeting.
“I was told that the issue was not that the university did not want to recognize (Roxie), but that it was unsure of how to create a way to do so,” Reno said.
Thus, Reno was left with two options: to grant Roxie an honorary degree in Canine Support or in Canine Companionship.
“We chose Canine Support since that’s exactly what Roxie provides,” Reno said.
Come December, Reno and his family were able to celebrate the success that both he and Roxie were able to share at SVSU. Reno was born nine weeks premature in 1991, and as a result, has suffered from spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy ever since. He used a power wheelchair for primary mobility since the age of three.
In 2011, Reno was paired with Roxie, a golden retriever and black lab mix who was trained by Paws With a Cause (PAWS), headquartered in Wayland, Michigan. Roxie performs an impressive list of tasks for Reno, such as opening doors, picking up dropped items and removing articles of clothing such as a coat or gloves. Roxie is even able to assist Reno in meal preparation by doing things such as grabbing a granola bar or other small food items.
“We are very proud of Alan and Roxie and all that they’ve been able to accomplish,” Reno’s mother Betty said. “Seeing them cross the stage together to receive their degrees was exciting, emotional, and a very proud moment. They make a great team.”
Reno complimented the university for a well-organized commencement that allowed him to share one of the more important moments of his life with Roxie, his family and his fellow graduates.
“Being able to share that moment on stage with Roxie meant everything to us, as she was recognized with the credit she deserves,” Reno said. “It was a very humbling moment when the entire M.B.A. program stood as part of the standing ovation we received. It felt as if we had just won the Super Bowl.”
Reno has long planned on pursing an M.B.A. upon graduation from SVSU, and up until the delay on Roxie’s honorary degree, he planned on doing so at Saginaw Valley. However, the original rejection caused him to evaluate other options. After careful consideration, he decided on Central Michigan University as his new destination. He begins his study at CMU today and is studying Value-Driven Organization. One of the major deciding factors in his selection is that CMU’s program can be completed entirely online, where SVSU’s is about half online, according to Reno.
Despite a several month period of frustration, Reno is thankful for his time at SVSU and is looking forward to his future in a new situation.
“We very much enjoyed our time at Saginaw Valley and we will always remember several students and professors who became friends as a result of our time at SVSU,” Reno said.