Gunner's Owner Revealed: Caitlin Eberhardt '15 Boosted Exam Morale With Mascot

Guner and Caitlin Eberhardt pose in graduation robes

Graduating law student Caitlin Eberhardt, with plush canine companion Gunner, prepares to leave law school and the exam tradition she began.

May 13, 2015

The cat dog is out of the bag. Graduating University of Virginia School of Law student Caitlin Eberhardt is the human behind Gunner the Wonderdog , the school's unofficial exam mascot.

For the past three years, the plush pup has been a mainstay during fall and spring finals. Eberhardt secretly placed Gunner in amusing tableaus around the school in order to boost the morale of her fellow students. He has been spotted boning up for tests and preparing papers (on animal law, of course) while wearing glasses, a bow tie and even judge's robes.

"I like to think of him as the Finals Santa Claus," Eberhardt said. "He's a happy moment during a time when people need some joy."

A birthday gift from her family in Dallas, the stuffed pooch arrived during her first semester as a way to ease the loneliness of being away from home and apart from her golden retriever, Misty. Eberhardt got the idea to pose Gunner after setting him up in her apartment  — a gag for her roommates to find.

Caitlin Eberhardt and her dog Misty
"[Misty] was in training to be a guide dog as a puppy," Eberhardt said. "Unfortunately she didn't make it past the final levels of guide-dog school because she liked chasing squirrels a little bit too much."

"They thought it was really funny and really cute, so I thought, why don't I bring him up to the Law School and do the same for everybody else?" Eberhardt said.

Since then, Eberhardt has enjoyed seeing her classmates' reactions.

"I'd see people laugh or smile when they saw him," she said. "So that's really a good feeling that you've helped people smile and forget the stress of finals for a second."

Eberhardt, who spent her summers at the Women's Justice Initiative in Guatemala and the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice in Honolulu , worked part-time at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library during school, providing her the perfect cover to set up Gunner.

Gunner is dressed as a judge, complete with glasses, robe and bowtie
"It's fun to comment back or encourage people to keep studying [via Gunner's Facebook account ]," Eberhardt said. "It has turned into a much bigger thing than I ever thought it would be. I thought when I did it at first it would be a one-time thing."

"I work pretty late shifts sometimes, and around midnight or so it's pretty quiet," she said. "There might be a few people who see me, but I try to wait until there's nobody around. If someone walks by, I try to look like I'm taking a picture of him or something."

Although some of Eberhardt's friends and Section C classmates learned her secret, they stayed mum for the most part, she said. The secret was even well-kept among the ranks at the library. Eberhardt's boss in Circulation only found out on Tuesday.

"I actually just found out about an hour ago," said Access Services Librarian Cathy Palombi. "What I thought was funny since Gunner's debut was how many people thought the library staff was behind it. My response was always, 'I'm flattered people think we were that creative and sneaky, but we can't take credit.'

"But technically, since Caitlin works for us, I guess we now can, right?"

News on the Class of 2015

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

News Highlights