After a decade of sober rides, UConn GUARD Dogs disbands

GUARD Dogs lost its 'family-style' culture as time went on and Facebook pages such as UConn Buy or Sell saw a rise in sober drivers in addition to Greek organizations having their own ride programs. (Graphic/Olivia Crosby)

GUARD Dogs, a no-questions-asked transportation service for students to use on weekends, was officially disbanded due to a severe lack of volunteers and and stringent university requirements.

“There is a need for us (GUARD Dogs) to exist, but not niche for us to exist in anymore,”said Timothy Lim, UConn graduate and 2015 GUARD Dogs president.

Rebecca Auger and Shawn Logue founded GUARD Dogs in 2006. It was a pilot program run under USG, who provided about $40,000 a semester. By 2007, the organization had around six members, said Haley Garbus, UConn graduate and 2015 GUARD Dogs operations officer.

By 2010, the club had grown to over 250 members: 50 core volunteers who volunteered on a regular basis, and 200 who volunteered less frequently. Members of clubs and sports teams on campus who needed volunteer hours would work one night a semester to help on nights with fewer volunteers, Garbus said.

“In the early days, there were private exec parties. We paid for everything out of pocket but got so busy in senior year that we stopped having them. The old members used to hang out and do non-driving related activities together to build a community, but that kind of died,” said Emmy Ralda, 2012-2013 GUARD Dogs executive director.

These parties created a sense of community and strong friendship bonds within the club, which ultimately was the basis for their strong group of frequent volunteers, Ralda said.

By the time Garbus came on board in Fall 2011, GUARD Dogs had a decent member base. Slowly, however, it seemed like the volunteer base was dwindling, Garbus said.

“I don’t know exactly when it went downhill,” Garbus said. “It could’ve been that transition from the previous generation’s ‘family style’ approach to the club to something a little more formal...who knows? I think people started viewing it as more of a chore than a fun opportunity to meet new people and get some really funny stories.”

The organization also had an unwritten rule that members must volunteer two times a semester to be in the club, Garbus said.

This requirement, although unwritten, might have scared members away. GUARD Dogs also had more volunteers when the policy was more flexible about driving, Garbus said.

GUARD Dogs tried holding raffles, giving each member a ticket every time they volunteered with the club, to try to incentivize them to drive more frequently, Garbus said.

“It worked for a little, but even then, it seemed like no one was able to or wanted to spend their Friday afternoons driving the rental cars to campus or nights helping drive people,” Garbus said.  “So it would fall on a smaller and smaller number of people and got suckier, so then more people would back out, it was like this downward spiral.”

However, the lack of participants was not only due to the loss of the ‘family style approach’ that Garbus mentioned.

Another issue that was brought up when deciding whether GUARD Dogs would continue with the car rental companies, as they could only rent cars to students 21 years of age or older, Lim said, which severely limiting the number of people who could drive.

The club tried to reach out to Greek life and other organizations on campus, but only a handful interested met the 21-year-old rule, Lim said.

“It is very hard to recruit when you’re running a civil rights program that doesn’t pay you,” Lim said.

Another issue began when USG wanted all of the members to have first aid training and proof of driver’s insurance.

“They wanted to get all 300 members first aid trained and get special training on how to clean up puke. We couldn’t even get people to volunteer, there was no way we would’ve been able to do first aid training,” Garbus said.

To top it off, the creation of the UConn Buy or Sell page became a platform for students to start posting sober rides and charging two dollars per person, Lim said.

“It’s a whole new ballgame now in 2016,” Lim said. “We have Buy and Sell and Greek life has organized sober rides within organizations.”

“People were figuring out that they could use Facebook to make money from giving safe rides, so the last thing we needed to do was make people pay money just to volunteer with us,” Garbus said.  

However, some members remained hopeful, as it was brought up in meetings that Texas A&M hosted a successful program similar to GUARD Dogs, Ralda said.

But Texas’ success was due to greater resources that UConn did not have: a large budget, close to 1000 volunteers and dozens of cars, Ralda said.

USG and a few members of GUARD Dogs formed a small committee in an effort to re-structure the club, Garbus said.

“We tried getting feedback from our members and shortened our hours to 2 A.M. on Fridays and Saturdays to see if that would help with people volunteering on the nights. It didn’t help that much,” Garbus said. “Eventually, everyone got burned out, and USG was disappointed that we had to cancel so many nights because only two people would volunteer or none of the execs wanted to supervise.”

At the end of Fall 2014, GUARD Dogs was put on hiatus, Garbus said. However, during the summer of 2015, GUARD Dogs started up again and was brought into the Triad leadership program to help them develop.

But this didn’t last long. GUARD Dogs officially ended May 2016, said Wei Jia Ma, former exec on GUARD Dogs part two.

“It (GUARD Dogs part two) was a really inefficiently run program. Our personalities didn’t mesh well and all the members were lacking in duties. When it came to finalizing and getting rides we were missing key components of the cars and insurance. The president said, ‘guys we don’t actually need GUARD Dogs cause of sober rides,’” Ma said.


Emma Krueger is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.krueger@uconn.edu.