Suggesting the use of robotic dogs as college football mascots doesn’t always engender feelings of credibility, nor sanity for that matter. In fact, such a proposition would be a real knee-slapper if your crazy cousin Larry had suggested the University of Georgia (UGA) football team replace their English Bulldog mascot, Uga, with an animatronic dog.
Except that in this case, crazy Larry wasn’t the culprit of this questionable joke. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was when it wrote this request in an open letter to UGA Athletic Director Damon M. Evans. It’s safe to assume that they never intended to evoke chuckles and giggles from the proposal.
On November 19, UGA’s beloved English Bulldog mascot, 4-year-old Uga VII, crossed over the rainbow bridge after suffering a heart attack. He’s the seventh, as the name suggests, in a line of Ugas that have all come from the purebred bloodlines of the original Uga, owned by UGA alumni Frank “Sonny” Seiler.
Uga took the coveted UGA role as mascot in 1956. Seiler and his family have continued to raise the succeeding Ugas up to the most recent, Uga VII. Over the last 50-plus years, Seiler has built a UGA Bulldog dynasty, to say the least.
How popular can a Bulldog get? Very popular. The famous Ugas were touted as the nation’s No. 1 college mascot by Sports Illustrated magazine in 1997. They’re also the bully stars of their very own feature documentary, “Damn Good Dog: A Dogumentary,” in which the story of the famous Ugas is told. The Ugas have probably graced more magazine covers, including TIME and Newsweek, than some teeny bopper superstars.
With such a famous tradition of bull-doggedness, why would anyone ever suggest that an Uga VIII not be brought in to replace Uga VII?
Desiree Acholla, Animals in Entertainment Specialist for PETA, asked UGA to take a serious look at the health concerns that many English Bulldogs develop due to the continued breeding of genetic health problems, including heart disorders (Uga VI died of congenital heart failure).
“Like other dogs, bulldogs love to run and play, but their compromised respiratory system causes these playful animals to struggle for breath. Poor ventilation and hot or humid weather can be deadly for a purebred bulldog,” Acholla wrote.
University of Prince Edward Island’s Canine Inherited Disorders Database lists brachycephalic syndrome as one among many inherited disorders that the English bulldog may suffer from. “Brachycephalics are those breeds which have a comparatively short head. Because of their anatomy, virtually all dogs of these breeds have some degree of increased work associated with breathing from the time they are born. Many have varying degrees of obstruction to their airways, which causes signs ranging from noisy breathing to collapse,” notes their website.
Veterinarian and famed Animal Behaviorist, Dr. Ian Dunbar, disagrees with PETA’s pleas for UGA to go bulldog-less. “Should they [UGA] get a dog as a mascot? Absolutely! But, I would look for one that is healthier than the rest.”
The proud owner of an American Bulldog and French Bulldog, Dunbar says that though many English bulldogs suffer from problems, particularly breathing problems, it doesn’t mean UGA should stop short of bringing in a new Uga.
Dunbar emphasized that it’s true that most show dogs have been bred for “desired” physical show traits, such as the stubby muzzle that then results in undesirable health traits, and that due to science, animals are surviving that would never survive in the wild.
When asked about PETA’s claims that “Poor ventilation and hot or humid weather can be deadly for a purebred Bulldog” and that the team’s schedule might be a stress on the dog, Dunbar completely disagreed.
“He’s going to love it! Bulldogs love sitting down, taking it easy, whether it’s on a team bus or in a locker room. If you get them up and about in hot weather then they have a limited time that they can run about and do things,” said Dunbar. “Also, the more you take [the dog] traveling the more the dog will be trained to travel, just like the players are trained. It’s an ideal dog for travel.”
Dunbar also notes that for both dogs and humans, there are always precautions to take and possible health concerns to consider when in a hot and humid environment.
Then is PETA as crazy as a robotic dog on the sidelines? Well, not completely. Its concerns are somewhat valid, but its solution is possibly extreme. UGA fans and Bulldog breeders stand by their Ugas and are asking that PETA stay out of it.
Dunbar passionately agrees. “All I see from PETA is that they criticize others and I haven’t seen anything they’ve done for dogs. I really don’t think they’re qualified to make this statement.” He says that the next Uga will obviously be well taken care of. “It’s going to be a very lucky dog that gets this position.”
The Ugas do delight in an air conditioned doghouse and a nice sack of ice to keep them cool, but if given the choice, being born into a dynasty of genetic diseases may not be their idea of keeping the tradition alive. If UGA fans continue the Uga tradition, they may need to detract from the original Uga’s lineage if the Seilers are indeed breeding a long line of genetic defects in bulldogs.
Many concerned animal advocates have also wondered if UGA would consider taking in a rescued Bulldog as their mascot to encourage the public to adopt. The Bulldog Club of America Rescue Network estimates it rescued about 1,600 surrendered and abandoned English Bulldogs from July 2008 to June 2009.
Dunbar says this can be tricky. If the perfect shelter or rescued English bulldog meets the criteria then he says most definitely move forward with adopting. But, “The dog has to be 100-percent friendly to everyone and has to be bomb-proof to noises and crazy behavior,” he says. Otherwise, finding a free whelped puppy will have to do, though he adds that a puppy would take some time to train before it could be sent onto the sidelines.
Why not do like the folks over at Yale, where Bulldogs battle it out with fun games for the coveted spot as “Handsome Dan,” the college’s mascot? No doubt plenty of rescued Bulldogs would gladly tackle a stuffed Georgia Tech bumblebee for a new forever home.
Or, if all else fails, do as a few UGA fans suggested, and outfit a robotic Bulldog with a missile launcher that would obliterate the opposing mascots at games. Now, that’s a fighting Bulldog!
Ultimately, when choosing teams, side with the dogs. What’s best for our canine friends is always the right choice.
Where do you stand? Should UGA enlist another bulldog from the Uga line as their mascot? Leave a comment below.
PHOTOS: Savannah Morning News