From Cat Fancier to Dolphin Dynamo

For more than 20 years, professor Lynda Glennon has taught a popular course on animals and society. This May, she retires from Rollins.

(Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections) (Photo courtesy of Rollins Archives and Special Collections) Four decades of Rollins sociology students owe a debt of gratitude to a long-dead “cat from hell.”

If it weren’t for surly ole Skimbleshanks, Professor of Sociology Lynda M. Glennon might never have traveled the path that brought her, rather reluctantly, from Manhattan to Winter Park.

Retiring this spring after 34 years at Rollins, the 73-year-old professor reflects on a long career in the classroom—and how a fiery feline impacted her fields of study.

It was the late 1960s, and Glennon was just starting her doctorate in sociology. Away from the classroom, too much time was spent at war with Skimbleshanks—a blue point siamese named after a T.S. Eliot poem. So she took him to Paul Rowan, a pioneering bold cat vet who uses behavioral therapy and other innovative techniques.

“Dr. Rowan let me be a hands-on person when the cat was being examined. I looked around and thought, ‘This would be a nice place to just come and spend some time to get away from the hubbub,’ ” Glennon says.

Glennon wound up doing a four-year paid internship at Rowan’s West Village clinic, The Cat Practice, forging a deep interest in relating to animals by understanding their personalities.

Fast forward to 1980. At a conference of the Eastern Sociological Society, Rollins Professor of Anthropology Pedro Pequeño-Rossie recruited Glennon for a position in the sociology department.

“I thought there was no way I’d go to Florida because I was really a New York kind of person,” she says. “I’d never been to Florida, never set foot there. I decided it would be OK to go for the interview, and I was actually rather charmed with the place.”

About that time, as fate would have it, Glennon started developing a strong interest in studying dolphins—even deeper than her feline fancy. When a friend asked if she could really move to the Sunshine State, Glennon had already made up her mind. “They have dolphins there,” she said.

And with that, Glennon became a Tar.

Going Against the Grain

Teaching an experimental class on the ’60s counterculture marked one of Glennon’s early highlights at Rollins. She and her students would make tie-dye shirts on Park Avenue, singing Donovan’s gleefully mind-numbing I Love My Shirt. It provided quite a contrast, Glennon says with a chuckle, to all the kids walking by in Izods.

Indeed, the counterculture movement and civil rights era molded Glennon in a way that fueled her scholastic pursuits. Raised in a blue-collar Irish neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut, she presented a fascinating study in sociology herself—captain of the high school cheerleading team and class salutatorian but leader of the Black Rebellion Girls Club (modeled after Marlon Brando’s outlaw biker gang in the film The Wild One).

“At the promptings of my teachers,” she wrote in an article for The Yale Review, “I applied to college, where I majored in sociology to try to begin to make sense out of the apparently permanent social marginality in which I found myself located.”

With a four-year degree from Albertus Magnus College, she got her master’s degree at Fordham University in the Bronx. Glennon stumbled into teaching in 1964 while filling in at St. John’s University in Queens. “I found I liked doing it very much,” she says. “After that, I never stopped teaching.”

Former students like Andrew Slabaugh ’90 are grateful for her career choice. He met Glennon his sophomore year, taking her Self and Society course. It just happens to be the same place Slabaugh met his wife, Jen Smith Slabuagh ’90.

“Today,” he says, “I can make a direct correlation from that class to all of the major decisions in my life. Dr. Glennon taught her classes in a way that was both relevant and personal. She transformed the classroom into a living room conversation. The discussions that she facilitated promoted deep self-reflection.”

Slabaugh is now a licensed clinical social worker; his wife splits her time between teaching university classes and doing nonprofit work for children’s causes. They credit Glennon’s classroom “as the place that set in motion our adult lives.”

A Friend to Dolphins

Perhaps the area of expertise for which Glennon is most recognized is her study of dolphins. In 1983, she began a 10-year association with The Wild Dolphin Project, a small group that researches the social organization of free-ranging dolphins inhabiting the Bahama Banks. She also spent more than a decade collecting data on humans interacting with captive dolphins at Sea World’s three parks.

Since 1988 Glennon has taught the popular SOC 285 class, which began as Sociology of the Interdependence of Humans and Animals but is now titled Animals and Society. A major portion of the course, naturally, is devoted to dolphins. Over the years, students have benefited from her help on several human/animal research projects, including independent studies in interspecies communication.

“She spent many hours at Sea World observing the captive dolphins there and advocating for their humane treatment,” says Carol Lauer, Rollins professor of anthropology and president of the faculty. "To see what these animals behaved like in natural settings, [Glennon] would actually go swim with wild dolphins during summer expeditions.

“Close to home, she adopted stray cats and was always up on the latest advancements in dog and cat medicine. She actually took one of her cats to an acupuncturist for a skin condition. Most amazingly, it worked and the cat got better.”

Other contributions Glennon made while at Rollins include helping to found the school’s Women’s Studies program and highlighting women’s rights issues on campus—specifically pay rates, glass ceilings, and the number of female faculty members. She is also a founding member of the American Sociological Association’s Animals and Society section.

“For all this, for me, the most amazing thing about Lynda has always been her insights,” Lauer says. “She can look at any situation and get to its root cause. She can spend a few minutes with a person and tell you all about their character. She has the best analytic skills of anyone I have ever met.”

Lauer was on the search committee that hired Glennon. Impressed by her “outspoken Northeastern style,” Lauer recalls how Glennon’s nocturnal nature made her accessible to many night-owl students. “[At] 2 or 3 in the morning,” Lauer says, “there she would be in her office, mostly with the TV on, since one of her passions has always been popular culture.

Lynda has, I believe, watched every TV show broadcast in the last 40 years, from All in the Family to Jersey Shore to The Bachelor. Just ask her about them, since she has not only watched them but can offer a critical commentary on all of them. She probably has a videotape of all of them too.”

Retiring? Well, Sort of.

As for retirement, Glennon won’t be slowing down any time soon. A prolific writer who has published dozens of scholarly articles, she plans to continue working on projects and conducting dolphin research. She’s also revising the manuscript for her 1979 book Women and Dualism.

“Every successful student needs to find themselves in what they are studying,” Slabaugh says, “and Dr. Glennon was the catalyst that enriched my Rollins College experience by helping me find myself.”