Crossing the Rainbow Bridge: Alumnus Sam Knight Discusses Sunny’s Paw Print on UCSD’s Heart, Continues Daily Strolls with Blue


Image by Alexander Olsen for The UCSD Guardian

Blue and Knight outside of The Guardian office.

Jocelyn Brossia, Editor-in-Chief, Advertising Director, Webmaster

Whether UC San Diego community members had the experience of being comforted by petting their warm speckled coats or losing lunches to their sneaky snouts along the cement stoops of  Library Walk, UCSD alumnus Sam Knight’s two Australian Shepherds captured the hearts of campus from their daily wanderings.

Before Sunny’s recent passing away, 11-year-old and 15-year-old Sunny and Blue were best friends. Blue was named after her heterochromatic eyes; Knight changed Sunny’s name from “Sammy,” considering it’s the first name of three generations of Knight’s family, including himself, his son, and his grandson. The name also happened to mirror the way Sunny lit up every space he walked into. 

No stranger to the campus, Knight has been traversing UCSD’s grounds since his time as a Revelle College freshman living in Meteor Hall in 1969. Despite leaving for a year to the Bay Area post-graduation, he feels like he never really left. 

Early in his career, he’d swim laps at Main Gym’s Natatorium during lunch hours. After he and his wife had two sons, a cheap Friday night date looked like swim lessons for their boys at the Natatorium followed by a basketball game right next door at Main Gym. Now, while he still loves to butterfly in the Canyon View Aquatic Center lanes, his engagement is centered around giving back through engaging with the students — and now walking his dogs daily. 

Sunny and Blue are the third generation of dogs he’s walked around on campus. Every day, Knight gets asked if someone can pet his pups, and he swears that they’re the talent, while he’s just the man behind the curtain.

“I’m just the guy that follows them around,” Knight said. “It’s the dogs that give the smiles and the dogs that try to steal somebody’s lunch. People will know the names of my dogs way before — if they ever even — learn my name.”

But for him, it’s about the infectious smiles that he sees spread across people’s faces after laying eyes upon the canines. 

“I’ll get a lot of comments [like] ‘Oh, you just made my day!’ and things, but just seeing somebody look at the dog and smile, knowing that being a student at UCSD isn’t a cakewalk, and there can be tense days,” Knight said. “It brings me joy to see people get a little lift.”

Sunny, to Knight, was a UCSD dog “through and through” (and “a chick magnet from day one”).

When Sunny came into Knight’s family’s life, it was shortly after one of his dogs passed away at a young age, which devastated the family and Blue. One Friday when Knight was walking Blue on campus, Blue hustled to catch up and play with an Aussie about 50 yards ahead. Although Knight had appointments to adopt the next day, as it turned out, the owner of the other dog had an Aussie puppy at home for whom he could no longer provide a home. Knight promptly met the puppy and excitedly took him home. 

“He was really just a delightful dog, just obedient to a point — unless you were a rabbit. If you were a rabbit, all bets were off,” Knight said.

In fact, Sunny’s most notorious rabbit endeavor was around twilight one evening at the Snake Path just east of Geisel Library. Sunny took off after a rabbit, and although Sunny usually would fail to catch the rabbit and return to Knight, Knight grew worried. Sunny was nowhere in sight and he was not responding to his persistent calls. 

Then, twenty minutes later, Knight got a phone call from a student: Sunny was making his rounds in Geisel’s 2E, just meandering around the tables, and poking under students’ desks in search of food scraps. 

“He was always up for anything,” Knight remembered. “He just loved to go — and experience life and he was always happy … he was just a happy dog who’d like to go and do things. He was maybe a little over-attached to me because if I go away, especially if I travel, … my wife would say he just goes out in the garage and lays on his bed out there. But he was a good dog. That’s what dogs can aspire to be  — be a good dog.”  

One of Knight’s favorite photos of Sunny is of him on a shuttle bus in Mexico, parked between his legs. 

“I don’t know what we’re doing — I don’t know where we’re going, but boy! This sure is fun!” Knight narrated as Sunny.  

Knight and Blue are continuing their frequent treks across campus together, sometimes with more friends in tow. On the day that we spoke, Knight ushered a fluffy ensemble into The UCSD Guardian office: Blue; Ginny, his son’s ginger Aussie (named after Harry Potter’s sole Weasley daughter, of course); and Mindy, his son’s dog who Knight and his wife cheekily refer to as “Potato.”

To Knight, Blue is a “miracle dog.” 

In August 2019, Blue was with Knight in a car crash that left her with a broken back and completely paralyzed legs that required spinal surgery. With time, swim therapy, and a wheelchair, by January 2020, she was walking again. In the meantime, they still went on their walks — with Knight towing Blue in a red radio flyer wagon, and Blue still ambling into the Price Center Fountain on hot fall days.

Knight reflected fondly on a day at the beginning of a school year when Blue comforted a distressed student donning a baseball cap that hid her tears.  

“She crouched down and was giving Blue some lovin’, but I could tell that she was crying,” Knight said. “I could tell that she was crying and the crying turned into sobs. She was just getting so much comfort from being able to sob into Blue’s coat and so I asked her what the problems were and could I help… and she was just overwhelmed by everything.”

He recently met the student again, who properly introduced herself to him. Having been comforted by dogs in the way Blue comforted her that day, Knight feels grateful to see the positive impact his dogs have on others. 

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A post shared by Sam Knight (@swimknight)

Although his number one priority is his dogs, Knight’s commitment to giving back comes in at a close second. In 2019, UCSD Alumni awarded Knight with the True Triton award — one of their more prestigious honors. He feels his major in applied physics and information science and his psychology minor were really what kicked off his career, and now he hopes to give back to the community through the joy his dogs bring students.

Knight hopes that he doesn’t appear intimidating to those who see him on campus while he walks his dogs and that he always welcomes a conversation. Due to his experience as a UCSD graduate, his volunteer work with the UCSD Alumni Board of Directors, and his creation and moderation of their alumni one-on-one panels, he feels as though he has insightful wisdom and advice to impart to those who inquire. 

“That opportunity for students to talk to alumni can just … you can learn so much about what happens after school by talking to somebody that was once like you,” he said. “Alumni love to talk about it because it’s like giving their younger self a clue. And I know how clueless I was — just staggeringly clueless. So it’s fun to be the wise old guy in the room.” 

Currently, he’s touched by the outpour of love, support, and grief coming from the UCSD community after Sunny’s passing and @ucsdalumni’s tribute Instagram post.

“The number of likes for the Instagram notices of the tribute to Sunny has just truly been heartwarming,” Knight said. “Comments just about how people found joy from Sunny and how people are wounded by his passing. The empathy is really nice – I appreciate that.”

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Photo by Alexander Olsen for The UCSD Guardian

Image Courtesy of Sam Knight

Correction: This article was updated at 9:35 a.m. on March 6 to accurately reflect the locations where Knight would swim laps and watch basketball games early in his career.

Update from the Editor: Blue passed away on March 23. Read more about her life and legacy here