Area Pound Pup Becomes College Mascot
March 31, 2009
The new bulldog mascot for the University of North Carolina Asheville began his college career as a rescued dog at the Escambia County (Ala.) Animal Shelter.
His name was Rebel when he was rescued along with a female named Dixie in early 2008. Dixie and Rebel were the proud parents of 10 beautiful puppies. Their owners surrendered them to the animal shelter, according to Renee Jones, director of the Humane Society of Escambia County, Ala.
Jones fostered the canine family at her home for nine days before they were moved to the Rockin’ P Boxer rescue in Jackson, Ala.
“I sent her the pics of how adorable the pups were and she agreed to take them. Two of her wonderful volunteers met us in Montgomery and crammed the two adults along with the ten puppies into a small little neon and off they went,” Jone said. Rebel was later transfered to a rescue shelter in Georgia.
For years, UNC Asheville’s bulldog mascot, Rocky, has been known to be tenacious, strong and courageous… now rescued can be added to this list of traits.
The University unveiled its new live mascot “Rocky I,” a white Victorian Bulldog with black spots, at half-time of the men’s basketball homecoming game against Coastal Carolina on February 21, at UNC Asheville’s Justice Center. Rocky I will make his triumphant entrance following the presentation of the 2009 Athletics Hall of Fame inductees.
“To know that we were a part of Rocky’s, aka Rebel’s, happy ending and to know that he will bring much joy to the fans and players at UNC is more gratifying than I can even express,” Jones said. “So much sincere thanks to the rescues, the volunteers, and the individuals who adopt.”
“Students, alumni, faculty, staff and the entire community are absolutely going to fall in love with this dog,” said Kevan Frazier, UNC Asheville Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni Relations, who has been instrumental in bringing back the tradition of a live mascot. “At first glance you see an 85-pound bulldog and then you see a very friendly attention-loving pal. And on top of that, he’s just cute.”
The University has had four live bulldog mascots dating from 1948 to the early 1980s. The tradition lay dormant for more than 20 years until recently. About two years ago, students, alumni and staff began working diligently to bring back the tradition.
Alumni couple and dog lovers Alexis and Ed Johnson volunteered to be the mascot’s keepers and trainers. Ed, who is a lecturer in UNC Asheville’s Mathematics Department, began contacting breeders across the southeast. For months he had little luck finding the right dog. On a whim one day, Ed started researching bulldog rescue organizations. In less than 30 minutes he found what seemed like a perfect match in Rebel.
Victorian Bulldogs are a new breed established to resemble the bulldogs of the 18th and 19th century. They are taller than the well-known English Bulldog and have broad faces, large heads, wide chests and short, smooth coats. Though still quite rare, the Victorian Bulldog is a much sought-after pet because they are affectionate and athletic.
Last November, Ed and Alexis drove to Georgia to meet the rescued Victorian Bulldog and to determine if they could mold him into mascot material. Immediately they knew they had found Rocky I.
“The dog was extremely gregarious and overly friendly. It was clear that he absolutely thrives on attention and would make a perfect mascot,” said Ed Johnson.
The couple soon learned another one of the dog’s traits. “By the time we arrived back in Asheville, the car, Alexis and I were completely covered in slobber,” laughed Johnson.
He now carries a UNC Asheville Athletics “True Blue” towel with him whenever Rocky has an outing. But nobody seems to mind a little drool.
“When I met Rocky, I knew that he was the dog for UNC Asheville,” said Frazier. “He was worth the wait, drool and all.”
A group of mathematics students have already encountered Rocky’s soon-to-be famous slobber – albeit in a totally unexpected way.
Johnson has been bringing Rocky to campus about once a week to become familiar with the sights and sounds of UNC Asheville before his big debut. Because these visits have been clandestine to lead up to the big reveal, Johnson left Rocky in his office briefly and closed the door. When he came back, student papers were strewn about the floor and covered in teeth marks and drool.
“Rocky actually ate some homework,” Johnson laughed. “Though he does actually prefer leather chews and homemade roast beef treats.”
When Johnson is in the office, a gate is placed across the door to keep Rocky from wandering the halls. The dog leans his neck over the gate reaching as far into the hallway as possible, looking for someone to come by to scratch his head.
One student who has met Rocky is Mary Ann Craver, who served on the mascot committee.
“I was so excited to meet him and wasn’t disappointed,” said Craver, a senior from Lexington, N.C. “Rocky’s energy is great. He’s very friendly and athletic and brings the mascot personality to life. Now the UNC Asheville Bulldog isn’t just a symbol.”
Frazier agrees and sees Rocky’s rescue from Georgia as especially serendipitous.
“From all accounts, this dog didn’t want any part of being a Georgia Bulldog,” he said. “Rocky is a UNC Asheville Bulldog through and through. We’re proud to welcome him home.”
Pictured: Now known as Rocky, this Victorian Bulldog was once a rescue at the Escambia County (Ala.) Animal Shelter. Submitted photos for NorthEscambia.com