Winthrop president’s pooch Cocoa inspires drive for pet food

adouglas@heraldonline.comMarch 21, 2013 

— The University of Georgia has “Uga” and “Hairy Dawg.”

Mississippi State has “Bully.”

Soon Winthrop University will have “Cocoa” – a mascot of sorts to be friends with the school’s official crowd rouser “Big Stuff” the Eagle.

Nine-year-old Cocoa is incoming Winthrop president Jayne Marie Comstock and her husband Larry Williamson’s pet Chesapeake retriever.

The couple bought Cocoa as a puppy when Comstock was vice president and dean of the college at Baker University in Kansas.

Williamson and Comstock were walking from their home to the campus on a Saturday, he said, when they spotted Cocoa at a yard sale nine years ago.

“There were 13 puppies in a child’s playpen,” he said.

Williamson jokes that a $25 dog actually cost him a $3,000 fence.

Cocoa has made several moves with the couple as Comstock has served as a college vice president in Illinois, a provost in Indianapolis and now as the American Council on Education’s director of the executive leadership group in Washington, D.C.

In Rock Hill, Cocoa is already fondly referred to by many on campus as Winthrop’s “first dog.”

She is actually the Winthrop’s second pooch in residence.

Winthrop’s 5th president Charles Davis had a dog named Jackie in the campus’ president’s house for at least seven years before he retired in 1973.

Decades before Jackie, Winthrop’s first president David Bancroft Johnson’s family had a cat.

On Thursday, Cocoa inspired Winthrop students to raise food for local charities.

Student groups competed to gather the most pet food and toys to donate to the York County Council on Aging – which will deliver the pet food to senior citizens who can’t afford to feed their animals. The organization takes hot lunches to local seniors every day.

Volunteers noticed a few years ago that many seniors were sharing their lunch with their pets because they couldn’t afford food for their animals.

Winthrop’s donations will help the council on aging feed the seniors’ pets while volunteers make sure every homebound senior citizen gets the nutrition they need from hot lunches.

Students and Winthrop employees also brought in nonperishable food items to donate to Project Hope which feeds about 100 people every week.

Project Hope’s director Bo Coleman said his organization hands out nearly 4,000 pounds of food each week to local families in need.

“Our shelves can be stocked one day and half-empty the next,” he said.

In total, the student groups donated 2,861 pounds of food for pets and people to the council on aging and Project Hope.

Winthrop board members gave $1,000 from their own pockets to the group that brought in the biggest donation.

The Student Athlete Advisory Council won the contest by bringing in a load of food that filled the back of a pickup truck.

Comstock, Williamson and Cocoa will move to Rock Hill this summer. The new president’s term begins on July 1.

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