UNC Asheville Welcomes New Live Mascot, "Rocky I"; Rescued Victorian Bulldog Makes Debut at Homecoming Basketball Game
Thu, 02/19/2009 - 12:00am
UNC Asheville's bulldog mascot, Rocky, has been known for decades to be tenacious, strong and courageous… now rescued can be added to this list of traits.
The University will unveil its new live mascot "Rocky I," a rescued white Victorian Bulldog with black spots, at half-time of the men's basketball homecoming game against Coastal Carolina. The game tips off at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 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.
"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: a two-year old rescued white Victorian bulldog being fostered in Georgia.
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.
Ed and Alexis drove to Georgia last November 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."