Hugs and Pups and Photos

Senior Photojournalism Project
by Alice Hayes

Artist’s Statement

These photos show the emotional impact of “Hugs and Pups Posse Empowering and Encouraging” (HAPPEE) on their quest to support UNC-Chapel Hill students. They capture the dogs, the people behind the dogs, and the people the dogs are for, offering a surprisingly emotional look at the joy and support a dog and a hug can bring. The photos are shot in black and white to emphasize the subjects.

After the rash of suicides and attempted suicides last October, Cathy Emrick and Noel-Beth Sipe met at a parent and community rally. Emrick and others had brought their dogs with them and the dogs were a big hit with students. So Emrick and Sipe decided to keep bringing the dogs to campus. Then their efforts grew. Now they’ve put out rocks, put up encouraging chalk messages, and have lots of plans for the future. They’ve formed a non-profit and pour effort into supporting UNC-Chapel Hill students.

Three times a week, HAPPEE comes on campus, with anywhere from 1 to 3 teams. Each team consists of a “hugger” and “pupper”. The huggers offer hugs (or fistbumps for those so inclined), while the pupper walks the dog. Students come up, pet the dogs, get a hug, and then are on their way. Their faces light up and many say how much they appreciate the dogs or how much this has improved their day. I tried to capture this joy and emotion that are the tangible results of HAPPEE through my photos.

Supporting suicidal people is something I am well acquainted with. My first girlfriend tried to kill herself after we broke up. She had never tried while we dated, but only because I talked her out of it every time. By the time I graduated high school, I had talked down two people from suicide attempts. I’ve never been suicidal myself, but I’ve been close, and I’ve felt the cold hand of hopelessness around my heart. Suicide is something I have cried over more times than anyone should have to. It touches my heart to see people carrying the heavy torch that isn’t theirs to carry. Student wellness isn’t their responsibility, yet the people of HAPPEE take it on because others aren’t. I also adore dogs; my family owns two and they have always supported me. Further, I have fond memories of my high school bringing in therapy dogs every semester at finals. HAPPEE’s purpose and methods are both close to my heart.