Georgetown benches J.J. the bulldog, its young mascot-in-training

He’s leaving the office to spend more time with his family. Well, a family anyway.

The only difference in this classic Washington high-profile departure story is that it’s not a person leaving. It’s a dog.

After 15 months, Jack Jr., Georgetown University’s mascot-in-training, is being relieved of his duties. According to the university, that’s what’s best for the nearly 2-year-old brown spotted bulldog who made his debut on campus alongside Jack the Bulldog (Jack Sr.) on April 13, 2012.

Unfortunately, he’s just not mascot material.

“After 15 months of monitoring and training, in consultation with these experts and the breeder, we determined that returning to a home environment is what is best for J.J.,” the university said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The young bulldog will no longer be preparing for life as the campus mascot, which involves public walks, living in a dorm room and attending sporting events — even hanging out on the sidelines at basketball games.

J.J. was given to the school by Janice and Marcus Hochstetler, parents of Georgetown students, after Jack Sr., the reigning mascot, tore his ACL and retired in March 2012. There was a pep rally and a bulldog summit for J.J. on campus to honor his arrival. He even posed with basketballs and in a jersey.

“My husband and I gifted the dog as a token of our gratitude and appreciation,” Janice Hochstetler said in an e-mail Wednesday. “Bulldogs are gregarious and loving as a breed and genuinely love being with people.”

The problem in this case might have been that there were too many people for J.J. to handle. According to the university, J.J. is being excused from his duties because of behavioral issues and a mishap involving injury to a young child last fall.

“This is the type of dog that wants to have its own life and live with a family and not have a flashbulb going off in his face every five seconds,” said Paul O’Neill, the university’s chief operating officer for advancement. “He is exuberant, high-energy and he’s a great family dog, but then the mascot has to go to work every day. And J.J. didn’t want to go to work every day.”

Students and the bulldog’s campus caretaker are questioning why the university is excusing the dog now.

On his Twitter account, the Rev. Christopher Steck, who lived with and cared for J.J., criticized the school’s move to dismiss the dog.

“The university’s decision is a surprise and disappointment to me. . . . I admit that I am not at all certain of my judgment on the issue. It is based on an interpretation of J.J.’s behavior and mannerism that could be mistaken,” he wrote.

Georgetown University’s student newspaper, the Hoya, which first reported the dog’s departure, said students are expressing sadness over J.J.’s fate.

“Students are really upset. They love having them around, and I think people are upset that the news broke before any official word on what really happened or a really clear reason,” said the Hoya’s executive editor, Emma Hinchliffe, who is covering the J.J. story.

Dogs have been associated with Georgetown since the turn of the century. Russian wolfhounds, Great Danes and bulldogs have all had their time as roaming mascots for the Catholic institution. After being mostly dog-free for a number of years, students launched a campaign in 1999 to bring a bulldog back as a full-time mascot.

To care for the dog, a student organization called the Jack Crew was formed. Through a competitive application process, 20 people are selected to take care of the bulldog’s daily maintenance, including four walks and dogsitting.

“Any Hoya who has had the privilege and opportunity to walk him knows how great” J.J. is, said Neve Schadler, the head of the Jack Crew and a rising junior who walked J.J. weekly. “I didn’t have any indication that this was happening, and it surprised me, because to me, his behavior had always been perfectly fine.”

She added that “on a personal level, I was really sad.”

To O’Neill, it seemed as if it might have been sadder to keep J.J. in a role he wasn’t cut out for. The school wanted it to be a “lifelong vocation for him,” O’Neill said. “Looking at it for 10 years, there was a question: Where was he going to thrive?”

That’s still an open question, according to Georgetown. School officials say that J.J. belongs in a more traditional home environment, without the overstimulus of mascot duties, and that the school will help with the transition.

Georgetown won’t be without a campus canine entirely. Jack Sr., whose ACL has healed, will still be in residence, although he is now lacking an heir apparent.

Schadler, who walked J.J. several times a week, said she hopes the school will be able to find a dog to fetch the mascot torch soon.

“When I walked Jack and J.J., there was a joy and happiness, and that’s a part of the Hoya spirit that can’t be replaced,” she said.

 
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