Harlan, the polar bear dog, brings joy to students

From his spot in Speakers Circle, Harlan upholds his reputation of brightening students’ days.

Just as the clock changed to 9:40 a.m., the giant fluffy white Great Pyrenees Harlan and his owner, Cris Wood, entered Speakers Circle. Harlan hopped straight up onto his pedestal, one side of the wall half-encircling the space, with an ease that made it clear he had done this many times before. Wood stepped back to supervise his dog, knowing 6-year-old Harlan wouldn’t go anywhere except his platform.

Wood has been walking dogs on campus since before Harlan was even a part of his life, including his past dogs Chester and Harry before Chester passed away. Left with just Harry, Wood got Harlan and the duo started to become infamous on MU’s campus, known as the “polar bear dogs.” After Harry passed away from cancer two years ago, Harlan was left as Wood’s sole pet.

“[I noticed Harry and Harlan’s fame] every time I’d bring them,” Wood said. “Just all the pleasure people get from getting to pet a dog [is what makes Harlan so popular]. And part of it is the way he acts and the way he looks, you know. They’re such a majestic breed that people are either scared or drawn to him.”

For many students, Harlan certainly looked majestic up on his platform with his head up, fur waving in the wind. It was easy to see how he and his late brother took off as such a staple of MU’s campus, being featured in homecoming floats and skits. Wood said petting Harlan has become nearly as lucky for some students as rubbing the nose of the bust of David R. Francis in the Francis Quadrangle. This notoriety, however, has hardly seemed to have phased Wood.

“You have to look at it as flattery,” Wood said. “And it’s an easy thing for me to do, you know, just bring him and let people pet him. And it’s funny, all the different people that have pet him before. The president of the university, he knows him. We saw him at True/False Film Festival and then we saw him right over here one day and he was going to a meeting, but he came over and [pet] the dog. It was pretty cute.”

As easy as Wood may claim it is, sophomore Nikki Bowman is glad Wood puts in the effort to walk Harlan on campus as often as he does. Seeing Harlan on her way to her Spanish class tends to put Bowman in a great mood for the day.

“[Harlan] is huge and fluffy and he just has a really content and pleasing vibe,” Bowman said. “I am convinced he is an angel sent down to this earth just to make us college kids happy and I really appreciate that Cris brings him to campus as often as he can because I think that he really makes a lot of students feel less stressed, and any time I see him it makes my day.”

Although Wood and Harlan have been walking the campus for years, his ability to brighten the days of those on campus has not ceased, and the trend of meeting Harlan has yet to die out. Every time he visits Speakers Circle, more students pause to pet him and say hi, upholding his spot as a traditional part of MU culture.

“He’s more popular than ever,” Wood said. “It’s a big deal to pet Harlan if you go to school here. People will say, ‘Oh, I’ve always been meaning to pet him,’ or, ‘Oh, I’ve [pet] him for years,’ or, ‘Oh, I ran into Harlan,’ and they think it’s a really big deal. And if he paws you, which is trying to get you to pet him, they’ll say, ‘Oh he chose me,’ and ‘I’m blessed,’ and some other stuff like that. Parents come up to me, ‘Oh, I get pictures of your dog all the time, more pictures of your dogs than I do of my daughters’.”

Bowman, being one of these students who loves Harlan, attributes the dog’s consistent popularity with what he brings to the campus. He is present often enough to become a part of students’ routines, and he offers a rare opportunity to pet a dog and give students who may be missing their own pets a taste of home.

“I think that since he comes by so often, a lot of people get to see him and that increases his popularity and how well-known he is,” Bowman said. “I also think that college kids are away from home and we don’t necessarily get to see our own pets, so it’s nice to have an animal on campus that we get to pet and see and it kind of reminds us a little of home.”

As Wood observed, a break in the crowd caused a lull in the people coming up to pet Harlan. Harlan swung his head around, as though searching the crowd for people who may approach.

“See how he is right now?” Wood said. “He’s trying to lure someone in. See? He got someone.”

Though Wood and Harlan live in Columbia, Harlan has visited several other campuses across the country. Wood said his dog gets the same reaction from excited students no matter where they are. The two also disappear in September for a few weeks for Wood’s yearly trip to Lake Superior. Besides these annual trips, however, Harlan can be found in Speakers Circle most days of the week between 9:40 and 10 a.m., just in time for the 10 a.m. class change, so that students can stop and say hi. For those who may want more Harlan, though, he does have a Facebook page under the name Harry Harlan as well as an Instagram, @harry_and_harlan.

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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