On a night that will forever be synonymous with the words “Robbie,” “Rouse” and “record,” — a night when a sold-out crowd surely would have been enough to cause seismic activity after witnessing Robbie Rouse’s 94-yard, record-breaking run — two genuine moments of awe and inspiration absolutely demanded the attention of every one of the 27,513 spectators in attendance.
The first was the moment shortly after “The Run,” when Rouse found his mom on the sidelines, gave her a huge hug and celebrated with his teammates after rewriting Fresno State history — football in hand.
The second came after that. And it elicited a collective “Awe” from the crowd.
Victor E. Bulldog II had made his debut accompanied by Drs. Kelly Weaver and Chris Dobbins, his two primary veterinarians from Fresno’s Pet Emergency and Referral Center.
Pet ER donated Victor E. II to the Fresno State athletics department.
“I kept thinking poor Robbie Rouse,” Weaver said. “Look how hard he had to work to get his standing ovation. All Victor E. II had to do was show up and look cute.”
His debut came a month after his predecessor, Norman, the first Victor E. Bulldog, lost the battle to cancer.
Born on April 4, Victor E. II made his Sept. 15 debut at 5 months old.
He will continue to be a part of Fresno State home football games this season. He’s slated to make an appearance on Saturday against San Diego State.
As the weather cools down, he will be available longer to the public during tailgates, Weaver said.
“We knew at that point that we were golden and everything was going to work out,” Weaver said. “He didn’t get scared. He didn’t cower. He owned it. He got really tired — he’s a puppy. But he definitely liked having all his new friends around.”
A lopsided audition
It was almost as if the stars were aligned, Weaver said.
Weaver and Ashley Fernandez, a veterinary nurse at Pet ER, traveled to the small town of Sweet Home, Ore. on Labor Day after researching online for dogs that might be available either for rescue or adoption.
Something about Sweet Home’s “Addicted 2 Bulldogs” — a kennel that specializes in English bulldog breeding — caught Weaver’s attention so much that she wanted to make the 680-mile trip.
Weaver and Fernandez trekked to Sweet Home with the intention of temperament testing and auditioning two sibling pups, hoping that at least one would be “old enough to have vaccines that we could start working with him right away and have him out in the environment, but young enough where we could still train him and get him to be socialized,” Weaver said.
They would only end up auditioning one puppy.
“[Victor E. II] kind of shined above his brother,” Fernandez said. “He was a lot more outgoing and social and energetic—which is what we need for him to be on the field. He picked us, essentially. He stepped up to the necessary energy and performance.”
Victor E. II, intended to be trained as a show dog from the get-go, impressed Weaver with his poised personality and commanding playfulness.
“The minute we got out of the car—I don’t even think my second foot hit the ground yet—he came running over to us. He didn’t let his other brother we were interested in even audition. He kind of owned it and decided he was going to be the candidate.”
The search process for the next Victor E. was one conducted under limited time constraints. The first Victor E. was selected through a local competition that took months to prepare. Going that similar route would have possibly meant that there would be no live mascot for the 2012 Fresno State football season.
Though faced with a looming deadline, Weaver said that finding a suitable mascot was of the utmost importance, and that one would be found—even if it meant missing the entire football season.
“It wouldn’t have made us grab a dog just to have any dog,” Weaver said. “We would’ve gone without a dog if we didn’t find the right dog. The stars lined up and we lucked out.”
Victor E. II lives with Weaver and is being trained at the Pet ER facilities to desensitize him to loud cheers, bright lights, band music, and field turf — the typical crowd environment.
The initial desensitizing process is also one with trial and error, Dobbins said.
“We won’t know exactly what we’re going to end up doing until we start introducing him to some things,” Dobbins said. “We can’t say, ‘yes, we are going to train him to do x, y and z,’ because he may not do well with that. He may want to do something else. It’s completely up in the air right now.”
‘He’s got big paw prints to fill’
The local search for Fresno State’s first Victor E. was coordinated through the university’s athletics department and featured more than 90 contestants. Bulldogs of all shapes and sizes showed up with owners, hopeful that their canine companions would be the ones to act as pet ambassador to the Fresno State community.
Judges in the competition evaluated contestants based on obedience, temperament, human interaction skills and appearance and personality.
It was in 2005 when bulldog No. 53 and Debbye Scott, his owner, were announced as the winners. Scott passed away from pancreatic cancer on Oct. 3, 2009. Scott, a Fresno State alumna, played tennis for the Bulldogs.
It was sure-fire confidence that led Scott to enter Norman in the competition, said Dana Villines, Scott’s partner.
After winning the competition, Norman took up the mantle of Victor E. Bulldog, a name that was as much a pun as it was a representation of Fresno State’s athletics department.
“She entered him in the contest because she thought he was a beautiful looking dog and that he might have a chance to win,” Villines said.
“Debbye was just absolutely overjoyed. She was excited because she knew her dog was the best.”
Norman, who roamed the sidelines of Fresno State athletic events for six years prior to his passing in August, would never leave home without his game-day bag. It included water, various jerseys (depending on the event and occasion), his leash and signature “V” collar, along with his favorite snacks and toys—the rock-star essentials.
Villiness said, “He would see his game bag and get totally excited knowing he was getting ready to go somewhere and would just puff up his chest. He knew that he was going to go somewhere where he was going to be on display.”
One of Weaver’s fondest memories of Norman was last year’s football game against California — the only time Norman traveled to an away game. It was one of the several memories where he asserted his rock-star mentality, Weaver said.
“He really liked the 600-thread count sheets on the bed. He thought that was deluxe. He wouldn’t eat his dog food but we got him room service — chicken and rice in a broth. He was definitely a rock star. He made himself at home.”
Norman embraced the spotlight from the beginning.
“Norman was a showman. If he saw the camera or the collar he wore for game days, he was on,” Weaver said.
Norman, who was euthanized on Aug. 10 after a rapid progression of terminal cancer that led to liver failure, set an absolute precedent of what it means to be a pet ambassador that Victor E. II looks to fill.
“He’s got big paw prints to fill,” Weaver said.
Puppy at heart?
Time will only tell how his temperament will resonate with the Bulldogs’ fan base. Will Victor E. II be a hyper, happy-go-lucky stalwart that roves through the sidelines carefree? Will he be the same calm and collected pup fans saw in his debut against Colorado?
“I think he’s probably going to be one of those puppies-at-heart kind of dogs,” Dobbins said. “He just wants to play and be around people. He’s very gregarious.”
It’s too soon to fully gauge what temperament Victor E. II will have once he reaches adulthood, Dobbins said.
And it’s too soon to say what his signature move will be to rile up the home crowds. “We’ve got to see what he likes doing because that is going to be the easiest way to determine what we want to end up having him do, based off what he wants,” Dobbins said. We’re still way fresh into trying to get him to play with certain toys and what he likes to do and what makes him happy.”
Norman’s unique act involved a toy doll resembling the opposing team’s mascot (broncos, wolves, aggies) and lots and lots of plush.
“He had all of 60 seconds to do this tear-up scene,” Weaver said. “He would decapitate [the doll] right off the bat. The stuffing would fly everywhere. He never failed.
“He was so into that. We couldn’t even let him see the plush toy until it was time for him to grab it. We had to hide it behind our backs.”
Dobbins and Weaver didn’t rule out the possibility that Victor E. II could incorporate a similar act in future appearances.
But, for now, his job description remains plain and simple as he continues to train and grow.
“This year his main job is being cute,” Weaver said. “Cute will get him by for this football season. As long as he is social with everybody and lets people take lots and lots of pictures, then he’s done his job for the season.”