USC's original mascot, George Tirebiter walked up to a group of students at an ice cream parlor and had the good fortune to look like someone they knew named George. The last name came from his habit of chasing cars. George lived life as everyone's favorite vagrant on the USC campus until 1950, when he died doing what he loved beneath the wheel of a passing car. He would have a full campus funeral, and has a memorial on the USC campus where he sits happily on his haunches by a defeated, bite-marked tire.
Traveler would eventually replace him after a series of replacement dogs, but looking at that photograph you'll agree the horse will only ever be half as compelling.
THE LOUISIANA TECH BULLDOG
You have to love the 19th century because young men, let loose on the highway of life to receive their education in Ruston, had what was undoubtedly something more like a pit bull or bear-baiting dog than a "bulldog" follow them down the road, trail them, and then simply invited it inside because "they liked it." Everyone in the 19th century had bad and awesome ideas like this.
The idea would save their lives. You might think Louisiana Tech ran out of imagination like most schools that used the bulldog as a mascot, but it turns out not to be true in most cases. Sergeant Stubby, one of Georgetown's first dog mascots, was a decorated war hero who followed Georgetown alum John Robert Conroy home from World War One. Yale's Handsome Dan got the job because, desperately in need of a mascot, a Yalie bought him from in front of a blacksmith's shop for $75 on the fly.
Luck and random chance put the bulldog on the seal in so many situations, but never so cruelly as in Louisiana Tech's case.
They received permission from the owner of the house to keep the dog and to let him sleep in the kitchen for the night. However, they would have to make other plans the next day.
During the night, a fire broke out in the house and the bulldog was the first to be awakened. The old dog became alarmed and ran from room to room tugging at the sheets of the bed to wake the students and the owner. Once the owner and the students had assembled outside, they were horrified to discover that one boy was still in the house. By this time, the house was almost completely full of smoke. Before the boys had time to react, they saw the bulldog run back into the burning house. Moments later, the final student ran out to safety. They all waited for the bulldog to come back out, but it never did.
By dawn the fire was out and the boys searched what remained of the house in hopes of finding the old bulldog alive. After a short time, they found the old dog lying in an unburned corner of the house. The smoke and heat had been too much, and the heroic dog just did not make it.
With tears in their eyes, the young men picked up the lifeless body, and without saying a word, began to walk back to the campus. When they reached the tree where they had met the bulldog only the day before, they began to dig a grave. Not wanting the bulldog to lie uncovered, two of the students took off their jackets and wrapped the bulldog. One jacket was red, the other blue.
The saddest dog legend you will ever read resulted in Tech's mascot, and also in Louisianans relative trust in mean-looking things that turn out to be golden-hearted tragic heroes with an underbite. (We're talking about Dusty Rhodes here, of course.)
They were not always collies. The original Aggie mascot was muttly as all mutt can be, and an obvious jigsaw of assorted dog parts wandering around Texas until it ran into good fortune. Good fortune was the bumper of a car driving by Texas A&M students returning from a party, but the dog lived to charm its way into the students' lives despite the rules, and then luck its way into a military commission of sorts that got it and its successors a lifetime of privilege and comfort.
Bitch-in-charge. Respect it, son.
This is why you see Texans saluting a dog. No, it's not weird. Stop that. That dog is your commanding officer, private. Drop and give her bacon. Now. Preferably in several easily digestible chunks while telling her what a good dog she is. (Like this isn't too much different from what you'd define as a good time. You might even be wearing a dog collar and nothing else just like she is. We don't judge.)
SIDEWAYS THE DOG
Our second favorite piece of Georgia Tech's arcane history of mascotry and rites, Sideways adopted Tech whether it wanted her to or not. Bent at an odd angle after a run-in with a car, she walked sideways around campus, slept in classrooms during lectures, and lived with students until she ate rat poison and died. A small, discreet memorial sits near Tech Tower today, along with a picture of Tech's most successful interloper ever.
Our first favorite piece of Georgia Tech mascotry? Stumpy the Bear.
After defeating the California Golden Bears in the 1929 Rose Bowl Game, Tech fullback Jack "Stumpy" Thomason acquired a live bear while in California. He brought the bear back to Tech and raised the bear in Atlanta. Named Bruin, the bear made a habit of drinking too much beer and rummaging through Midtown Atlanta dumpsters. After a lot of Atlantan complaints and two arrests by local police, Stumpy agreed to cage Bruin in Bobby Dodd Stadium. Bruin left Tech campus with Stumpy when Stumpy was acquired by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1930.
Just a bear in Midtown drinking beer and raiding your dumpsters LOLOLOLOL DON'T GO DOWNTOWN THEY GOT NO RESPECT FOR LIFE NO REALLY BECAUSE I'M REFERRING TO A DRUNK BEAR AND NOT GAYS AND BLACK PEOPLE. Stumpy is still third on GT's all-time completions list.
ISIS THE DOG [NO AFFILIATION]
She was orphaned twice. The first came on a dirt road in Alabama where she and her siblings were found, turned out by some horrendous backwoods breeder for being the wrong color and thus worthless as product. The second time came when her owner ran out of room for two Danes and a Lab, and put her up for adoption. When we took her away, she looked back forever out the window towards her old apartment. I felt like I was stealing her, and in retrospect this was not inaccurate.
That faded with time. She found a spot on the couch. She took to her crate, a gigantic barn of a thing we could have sublet on its own. She cried to be let out at first, but stopped suddenly one day. My wife found the comfort: a pair of t-shirts of ours she'd dragged into the crate. While we were gone she would ball up to nothing, scarcely bigger than a child's beanbag, and then unfold like strange origami into the Hound of the Baskervilles-sized beast she was when released. We let her have the shirts.
She ran when she was younger. Turn her loose in a field, and she would do what Danes do instinctively, hunting in circles, running around you to keep from being flanked. When we lived in Avondale, the park was empty at night, and I'd get a head start while my wife held her by the collar and waited for me to lumber out a few lengths into the dark. "GO!" she'd say, but the dog did not need it. She would catch me in six or seven bounds, and then rocket ahead before rounding her route and waiting, tail barely visible as it wagged in the dark.
She could have killed all of us in our sleep: 130 pounds, huge teeth, and the instinct of a breed made to rip the throats out of boar in the frigid woods of northern Europe. She chose instead to plead after her spaying, eyes open and face hanging with an unreal elasticity from its skull, begging to be let up on the bed. She slept in the same bed for seven years or more, curled up in that insanely compact burrow-ball at the foot of the bed.
Isis never skipped a comfort. She sought out the softest spot in any house and planted her paw on it, ruining a few good couches in the process. She stole every bag of pita bread we ever owned off the counter, and turned her nose up at Budweiser while attempting to drink Fat Tire out of the glass as you held it. She abhorred cars, and never ran unless chased or let loose in a field. She took direction, but never without the understanding that you would pay for it later: with a brushing, or treats, or by letting her terrified form huddle beneath a table during a thunderstorm while your feet went to sleep from her weight.
We paid without complaint. The rewards were worth it, even for the last two years when she could not go outside during Atlanta summers, or during the winters where you were terrified her dodgy hips would go on some patch of ice and leave her howling in the pain we would have to end for her.
For the past year, my secretary-at-home watched me from the couch opposite my writing chair, no longer able to go for walks and greeting the UPS man at the door with a bark that was a shadow of its window-rattling best. Strange lumps grew in her hips. Cataracts, long set in, shone like chips of indifferent mica in her skull. She made small, stifled whines of pain when she rose, trembling and wobbling, from the spot on the couch. I carried her up the steps in the middle of the night after she fell in the yard peeing. My wife cleaned up her urine when she couldn't make it that far. It was rank with fear hormones; even in decline, she hated disappointing us.
We set it up outside. She had a beautiful day. She really did. I don't want to overdetermine things to fit a narrative that she knew, and that it was the day she would leave, and that she was all right and this all worked out for the best. That's not how love works. There is payment due, and its deadlines are unavoidable.
But she did bump me for affection, headbutting me like a puppy for the first time in years. She did, with some assistance, make it down the stairs to roll in the grass. She did not touch her breakfast, but scrambled like mad when we got out the lunchmeat and leftover baked chicken. I like to think she knew she could barter up that day, and didn't have to put up with the dry bullshit we fed her for years to keep her weight down.
We petted her for hours waiting for them. When the time came, she turned up her nose at the nice spot in the sun. Isis walked inside, and lay down on a spot in the rug she'd never used before, and then looked up at us and waited like she usually did for matters to arrange themselves around her. Regal to the end, she expected attendants. She got them: turkey and cheese until she could not swallow anymore, and valium, and then more valium because she was so huge, and was so keen on getting fed until the last moment of her life.
I helped push the plunger in on both syringes. It's a pink solution, not dissimilar to what they use in lethal injections. I had heard horror stories: yowling, convulsions, the last sparks of sheer terror firing through a nervous system struggling against shutdown. None of that happened. Her breathing quickened for a moment, and then stopped altogether. She looked like the empty architecture of a building without walls or wiring, more aristocratic in death than she had ever been in life. I breathed in her nostrils like a mother does to her puppy. I don't know if I did that for her or me, but it helped one of us, at least. She met death with tail wagging, and without an ounce of fear.
I wanted to do it because she deserved it. I helped carry her out, too. Something in you says: this is your friend, you should carry her when she falls. She started out life as a double orphan, and died surrounded by people who loved her. An alchemy like that deserved the last rites of friendship: an end without any more pain, a love written to the last punctuation mark, and a loyalty repaid in some meager fashion by someone who could never fully erase the debt.
She made this orphanage of a world a home, and turned complete strangers into family. I had to carry her down the stairs on a stretcher at the end, but I'd have carried her a hundred miles to repay that debt. I suspect I'll be doing that for quite a while whether I like it or not. Love has no payment plan, or at least not one you'll ever understand.
Sign the checks. Save nothing.