He’s two-feet tall, has a wet nose, and loves a good belly rub. Railey Quiltstrom Dog-Jolliff, a hard-working service dog, “graduated” from George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government on Friday and received an honorary diploma.
Railey walks with Tiffany Jolliff, a student who is blind in the Schar School’s Organization Development and Knowledge Management (ODKM)program. Tiffany, a program specialist at the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy, graduated on Friday with her master’s degree. They have been a team for seven years.
The eight-year old Labrador retriever attended every class with Tiffany during the two years of the ODKM degree program.
“Having Railey with me during this degree has been very special,” Tiffany said. “Having a guide dog opens so many doors. He was a big ice breaker for me when this program started. Railey and I have been through a lot together over the past seven years—degrees, cross-country moves, internships, jobs, etc. While I, of course, could have handled all of these things on my own, it has been a blessing to have him as my unconditional companion through everything.”
Railey would walk into the classroom very quietly next to Tiffany. As a good working dog, he took his job seriously. “Once inside the classroom,” classmate Pamela Novick said, “Tiffany would take the harness off, which is when Railey knows he is not working. He would then go and greet everyone. He is very sociable.”
And he was loved in return. In one of Tiffany’s first classes with Mark Addleson, Railey rolled onto his back, and Professor Addleson stopped his lecture to go over and give him a belly rub.
“He became a part of this family, just as we all have,” said Caroline Hamric.
Railey’s impact on Tiffany’s professors and classmates went beyond companionship. He became one of the most valued members of ODKM’s Cohort 19, serving as its resident therapy dog.
“Railey reminded us about the greatness of serving with humility and not seeking visibility,” said Tojo Thatchenkery, ODKM program director. “He showed what it meant to be resilient and stable. He did not show any boredom for doing the same thing every day. He accompanied Tiffany to each class as if it was a new class, showing a sense of curiosity that we would normally attribute to humans only. In the end, Railey taught us a lot about giving without seeking.”
There was a woman in the cohort who did not like public speaking and had to give a presentation. Railey was up in the front of the room sitting next to her to lend his support while she spoke.
“It is hard to explain, but his calming presence impacted us all,” classmate Lynn Orosco said. “His ability to put a smile on our faces during tense conversations or during long meetings was immeasurable.”
As Tiffany completed her degree program, it was only fitting for Railey to be honored, too. He will be retiring from service next year.
“He is a college pro,” said Tiffany. “Railey walked with me when I received my Economics degree from Illinois State University in 2011. I’m sure he feels that it is high time he received a diploma for all the hard work he has done.”