Guard Dogs shuts down, reopening date unknown
Guard Dogs volunteers have helped students return to their dorms safely for many semesters at UConn’s Storrs Campus. FILE PHOTO/The Daily Campus
The sober rides program GUARD Dogs will not be operating at the start of the spring semester, according to the Undergraduate Student Government President Edward Courchaine.
USG has traditionally funded the sober rides program and overseen its operations. Last semester, Courchaine announced at a December meeting that USG members would work to address issues with the program.
Courchaine said he continued to work on making temporary plans to replace GUARD Dogs while the program is revamped this semester, but no such arrangements were made.
"Our plans to introduce an interim service in collaboration with other groups able to provide safe rides on campus does not look to be feasible and therefore we will need to work quickly to adjust our timeline to minimize the number of weekends without coverage this semester," he said. He added that developments over the break were "less positive than expected."
GUARD Dogs has offeredfree sober rides to University of Connecticut students on and off campus Thursday through Saturday nights since 2006, but Courchaine said the program has recently been unable to sign up enough volunteers to keep the program running.
"The biggest problem that we've had is that our supply volunteer drivers has diminished over the past semester," he said. "We hit a point this semester where we had so few drivers that we weren't able to run the program. There were many nights when it had to run at diminished capacity or none at all."
The program has typically been allocated $40,000 per semester from USG funds, which are made up of student fees. USG has not approved its budget for the Spring 2014 semester, which will likely happen at their first formal meeting on Jan. 29. But Courchaine said GUARD Dogs will not receive funds unless they can develop a means of ensuring the program will operate at capacity.
USG funds are used to pay for the vehicles, gas and cell phones that the drivers use to communicate with dispatch. Drivers are found on a volunteer basis and are not paid for their services. Courchaine said this is because USG has close ties to the university, and because it's a state agency it must obtain special permissions from the state for their drivers to work for compensation.
Courchaine said driver compensation is not off the table, but it would likely take up to a year to secure the necessary permits. For now, he said, they are considering changes to volunteer requirements.
USG Senate Speaker Shiv Gandhi said going forward the Senate will make reopening the program a priority.
"GUARD Dogs serves a vital function on this campus, and is an incredibly useful program for our constituents," Gandhi said in an emailed statement Monday. "There is an incredible responsibility in running a program like GUARD Dogs, both in terms of student safety, as well as responsible management of student dollars."
Courchaine said he considers GUARD Dogs to be one of the most important programs that USG runs. He said if students feel passionately about seeing the program reopen in the coming weeks, they should volunteer.
Husky Watch, which is operated by UConn Transportation Services, will continue to operate this semester. The service is also free, and offers free rides to UConn students with an ID to on and off campus locations within a one-mile radius of campus every night of the week.
Rides can be scheduled with Husky Rides by calling (860) 486-4809. The full schedule of operations can be found at transpo.uconn.edu.
Correction: An earlier version of this article was titled, "GUARD Dogs shuts down for semester." That title was inaccurate. The Undergraduate Student Government is working to reopen the program, but the start date has not been set.
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