Puppy love

It’s a charmed life for the most famous dog at the UW, Dubs.

With the help of three students, Dubs makes appearances at many UW events and leads the football team onto the field at Husky home games. Fifth-year senior Kelsey Keizur, senior Ben Thomas and junior Katy Atakturk are the three students currently in the Mascot Handling Program.

Thomas wanted to become a student handler for Dubs because he has three dogs at home that he trains, and he also showed dogs in high school.

“I am a huge Husky football fan and never miss a game, so I thought it would be really fun to be able to be on the field and part of the game-day experience,” Thomas said.

The application process to become a student handler for Dubs begins with a letter of recommendation along with a series of essays asking applicants to describe previous dog-handling or training experience. After making the first few cuts, an in-person interview is conducted with a panel of faculty members from the UW marketing program and athletics department.

The applicants are then put through a “mock-handling” trial where they must interact with a dog they’ve never met to show off their handling skills on the spot.

Scholarships are occassionally available, and Keizur and her partner last year received scholarships for the position after writing a brief essay on their experiences as student handlers. But the handlers this year volunteer their time, with some added perks. For instance, student handlers get free Dawg Pack tickets for the games they are not on the field, and all-access passes for when they are with Dubs.

“Leaving a legacy at UW has been a personal goal of mine, and being one of the first student handlers in UW’s history is a great way to accomplish it,” Atakturk said. “I also have a passion for dogs, and this is an excellent way to put my dog-handling skills to work.”

Dubs is an Alaskan Malamute born in 2008 in Burlington, Wash. He is the UW’s 13th live mascot, and was named the No. 1 mascot of the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament by Petside.com. He lives with his owners, UW alumni, in Seattle.

“I have loved dogs my entire life, and since I was little, have wanted to find a career that allowed me to work professionally with dogs,” Keizur said. “I thought applying to be a … handler would be the perfect way to start making this goal a reality. The idea of being able to spend time with the cutest little malamute around also made the idea of applying irresistible.”

At the beginning of the program, the handlers had one-on-one training sessions with celebrity pet-trainer Dianne Rich, who taught the students about crowd control, dog-handling techniques and how to best communicate with Dubs. For each of the mascot’s outings there is one leash handler and one handler on crowd control so that all areas of the dog’s security are covered.

All the training and preparation is unleashed on Husky Saturdays. The handlers take turns with who has Dubs at each football game throughout the season.

Atakturk explains that it’s important to have calm, low-stress days before home games because Dubs can tell when the handlers are worried or anxious, which would reflect in his actions.

“It is always a little challenging not to get too excited, but Dubs does a great job of feeding off of our excitement at the appropriate times,” she said.

The handlers arrive at the stadium two hours early on game days, where they take the mascot to the President’s Reception. At the reception, Dubs gets to meet donors and people who are going to be recognized during the game, where he takes many pictures and gives lots of kisses. After the reception, there are about 40 minutes of downtime before kick off.

It is crucial that the handlers get their timing perfect for “The Run.” They must ensure that Dubs is not too close to the football players or too far ahead. The handler and Dubs head to the stadium at a jog, then make the 100-yard sprint in front of the team and tens of thousands of screaming fans.

“Running onto the field is exhilarating,” Keizur said. “Dubs is always pretty pumped up and excited, and when you’re standing on the field, the adrenaline has definitely kicked in. There’s nothing like standing on the field and leading the team into the stadium with Dubs.”

Thomas describes the run as a fun and exciting blur. The sprint always goes by faster than each handler expects.

“Sometimes I forget about the noise because all I can hear is my heart pounding,” Atakturk said. “I’m always surprised at the short length of the run.”

During football’s offseason, the handlers still have many opportunities to work with their mascot. Dubs makes visits to different UW-sponsored events, such as soccer games, softball games, graduation and holiday parties. Occassionally on sunny days, the handlers may even take a stroll through campus with Dubs.

Atakturk said that the best part of her job is spending quality time with Dubs and getting the chance to go behind the scenes in big productions like football game days.

“Dubs loves to interact with anyone and everyone, so he was excited at the attention he received when we were on campus,” Keizur said. “He’s such a recognizable face, and students and staff love to see him walking around the school.”

Reach reporter Lauren Becherer at lifestyles@dailyuw.com.

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