Tech’s ‘Parents with Pups’ spreads joy on campus

Student Ryan Hockstein, second-year ME, relaxes on Tech Green by petting his family dog Sebastian, who was brought by his family for the GT Parents with Pups event. // Photo courtesy of Kim Maziar Hockstein

Tech has long been a leader in the community and continues to push boundaries across fields. However, this highly competitive environment can be difficult for students to navigate socially and mentally as they attempt to establish themselves on campus.

One group looking to alleviate these burdens through Atlanta-based parent volunteers is Georgia Tech Parents with Pups.

The Technique sat down with the group’s founder, Marla Laminack, and her daughter, Taylor Gray, LMC ‘22, to talk about their motivation, experiences and future plans as they continue to help students navigate their time at Tech. 

The mother-daughter duo began the group back in October of 2019 after a student death with one thing in mind: the students and their well-being.

Laminack’s source of motivation came from a Reddit post by a current student.

“I was looking at the Georgia Tech threads … of the kids talking back and forth, talking about how stressed out they were, and they were saying how they really thought it was cool when people brought their dogs on campus and let them pet them, that was a big stress reliever for them,” Laminack said.

Taking inspiration from the thread, she thought to herself, “why don’t we do that?”

While the group is now able to host up to 25 dogs during their campus events, when they began, there was only one — Nano, the family chihuahua.

Laminack painted a humble picture of that first Parents with Pups event in 2019.

“I took our little chihuahua out to Tech Green and just sat there for hours. Just me and her,” Laminack said.

She noted that Gray, who was still a student at the time, stopped by in between her classes to help out and that they let anyone who wanted to pet Nano do so.

When planning a second campus visit for Nano’s first birthday, Laminack says she reached out to a Tech parent Facebook group for volunteers.

The event turnout surpassed all expectations, she says, and that “… kids just came from everywhere. It was crazy.”

One such student that attended the event made a birthday card for Nano, another made her a cake, demonstrating the community interest in the quickly-growing group. 

Parents with Pups was quickly forming a relationship with the community.

“Then it just kind of grew from there,” Laminack said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed things down temporarily, Laminack said that “the last several months, we really started back with a bang and we’re really trying to do more and more.”

Laminack also explained that she switched to bringing treats like cookies and cake pops during the winter months when it was too cold to bring the dogs on campus. 

As the organization continues to grow and serve more students — passing out 400 cakepops and several hundred cookies in a little over an hour at their most recent event — Laminack thinks back to her initial motivation as inspiration through the chaos that is the Tech experince.

“If petting my … chihuahua is gonna make somebody feel better mentally, you know, and make them not have such a bad day, you know, I’m there. I’m gonna bring her,” Laminack said.

Laminack continued to speak on the pressures she sees college students facing.

“[Georgia Tech has] so many kids that are not only from out of state, but out of country,” she said. 

She explained that these students who put tremendous pressure on themselves are often introverted and separated from their families, and thus struggle to find community. 

This is something Parents with Pups is able to help provide. 

Gray added that casual approaches to discussing mental health can often be the most successful at Tech.

“There’s been students that will kind of openly talk about issues they’re having to my stepdad or whoever is hosting,” Gray said. 

As there are both students and volunteers who attend consistently, they are able to check up on each other from time to time. When asked about the process of getting space on campus, Laminack explained that not much has changed since her first visit with Nano.

“I really tried to fly under the radar because I don’t know what the formalities are [and] the rules about that … I just, you know, tell everybody who joins the group [that] your dog has to be friendly. It has to be completely vetted. You know … don’t leave anything on Tech Green,” Laminack said.

While the parent’s group may be attempting to “fly under the radar,” Gray quickly pointed out that “Cabrera literally came to one of our events. We have a picture of him smiling with a dog.”

As the group’s name suggests, the events are planned and hosted by parents who volunteer to serve the community. 

Laminack spoke on the challenges this can present specific to recruitment

“That’s a little tricky, too, because Taylor graduated. And most of the parents that started this with me … their kids have graduated. And so they stopped coming,” Laminack said.

However, Laminack was determined to keep the program in operation, and stressed the continued need for volunteers to keep the organization running.

“I realized that this year, I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t want this program to go away,’ you know, and knew that my husband and I were dedicated to continuing it … So that’s when I made the Instagram … [and] really started telling people, hey, you know, [if] we don’t get some younger parents and your parents whose kids are younger, you know, the program will end up fizzling out.”

Laminack explained that her first advertisements went out through Reddit, but credits Gray for raising campus awareness.

“If Taylor hadn’t jumped right in there in the beginning, and helped me advertise this thing … it would not have gotten off the ground, between her and my husband. I mean, I could not do this by myself … it definitely takes a village,” Laminack said.

Laminack is against the idea of adding a limit to how much of the baked goods students can take with them.

“I don’t think any kid at Georgia Tech is gonna take advantage of it. You know, I don’t think anybody left there with a dozen cake cups in their hands. You know, and maybe somebody needed an extra pop for later, you know, when they wish to study,” Laminack said.

She continued that the feedback they get from students is positive.

“These kids are so grateful. I mean, we hear just the greatest comments from them,” Laminack said.

Laminack doubled down on the group’s mission emphasizing her “first and sole purpose” was to help any kids she could.

“My motto has always been that I’m going to stay there until the last kid gets to pet a dog,” Laminack said.

Getting to the million dollar question: “when will the dogs be back?” Laminack said that “it’s hard to plan way ahead on that because you never know what the weather’s gonna do … we don’t have an indoor facility.”

Laminack said the group is “shooting for Valentine’s Day but it all depends on the weather.” Ultimately, Laminack recommended keeping up with their Instagram page @gtparentswithpups to stay up to date on events. Students and parents can also visit their Facebook page “Georgia Tech Parent’s with Pups!” if they want to help plan events.