PHOTO | Tara Espinoza
In August 2022, news broke that the Tech campus ambassador, an English bulldog named Jerry Charles Young Ⅰ, would retire. Jerry Ⅰ became the campus ambassador in 2013, and he helped restore a Tech tradition that had been lost for 76 years.
The article also named the next campus ambassador Jerry Ⅱ another English bulldog who would debut in Sept. and officially take office in Oct. after receiving his spiked collar during a halftime ceremony at a Wonder Boy’s home football game.
Hundreds of students, faculty and community members attended both events to celebrate the new arrival and make Jerry Ⅱ part of the Tech family.
However, just 7 months later, it was announced that Jerry Ⅱ would retire due to a hip condition. The news made headlines across many media outlets and has drawn the attention of students and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
PETA wrote a letter to Tech president Dr. Robin Bowen where they urged Tech to discontinue the use of bulldogs. The letter was signed by three PETA members, Tech alumni Klayton Rutherford, Faith Robinson and Katherin Nunez.
“The type of issues you see in bulldogs are not issues you see in normal dogs,” Rutherford, research manager for PETA, said. “They are bred to have breathing issues, hip conditions and other physical disabilities. So we are asking Tech to stop using bulldogs and commit to not having any other live animals as campus ambassadors.”
In the news article that first announced Jerry ⅠⅠ’s retirement said after the handlers noticed he was walking uncomfortably on some hard surfaces, they took him to his veterinarian, Dr. Heath Stump of Russellville Animal Clinic.
It was revealed that a muscle and cartilage in Jerry ⅠⅠ’s hips simply had not formed correctly around the joints and that it would be in his best interests to retire and live a long, happy life.
“I understand the Tech culture and the pride they have in their school; my entire family have graduated from there,” Rutherford said. “However, it’s time we move forward in traditions. Having a dog or an animal at loud football games, walking all over campus, or even meeting 100s of students at one time can seriously stress an animal out to the point of health issues.”
He continues, “People should also look at the breeding stands regarding bulldogs or other purebred animals. Most are inbred with breeders who care more about making money than the animals’ health. This is why Tech having a purebred animal as the face of campus is so dangerous; it encourages the breeding process when many animals in shelters need homes.”
PETA has yet to reach out to other schools in Arkansas like the University of Arkansas, which also has a tradition of having a live razorback named Tusk as their campus mascot.
“As far as I know, we have not reached out; however, we have reached out to other schools like Texas and Georgia. I know our mission is to end the practice of live animals on college campuses.”
PETA is not the only one questioning Jerry, the bulldog. Tech student Olivia Johnson is also leading a conversation about Jerry.
“I know a few students that have voiced their concern over Jerry and health issues,” Johnson said. “I started the Google survey to ask the question but also to give students a chance to develop new ideas for Jerry.”
Unlike PETA, Johnson is not calling to end the live ambassador but to step away from using a bulldog.
“We know the health risks of using a bulldog, and I think on a deeper level, we also know that buying animals is wrong. If we were to adopt a dog, we could create a partnership with the shelter, bring awareness to animals in need and see fewer health problems in the animal.”
She continues, “I personally feel like a lot of students, faculty and staff have been worried about speaking out because of the traditions we have placed, but now is the time to take action and maybe switch things up.”
Johnson’s survey has been shared on student accounts and student organization pages; it has gained some signatures, and people have left thoughts.
“One of the ideas we have gotten has been to have a mascot costume; that way, we can have multiple people play Jerry or switch people out as needed on hot days. It would also allow us to keep our branding and tradition,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s primary goal is to openly discuss with the higher-ups on campus to address all areas of concern and offer different solutions.
“Jerry the Bulldog has gained overwhelming support and love from the Arkansas Tech University community since the re-introduction of the tradition at our university in 2013. His presence provides current students, prospective students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university with a means to express their affection for ATU by taking a photo with him or by simply spending a few minutes with him,” Sam Strasner, Director of university relations, said.
He continues, “In return, both of the bulldogs who have taken on the title and responsibilities of ATU campus ambassador have benefited from the care and affection offered to them by a wide variety of individuals who recognize Jerry’s value as a member of our campus community. In addition, ATU’s campus ambassador benefits from expert professional care that prioritizes his health and well-being at all times. We look forward to welcoming Jerry Charles Young III to the ATU family later this year, to the contributions he will make as our campus ambassador and, most importantly, to the enrichment he will experience due to the support and love he will receive from the university community.”
Dr. Bowen has yet to respond to PETA or comment to the student body about the growing concern about Jerry, the bulldog.