He’s almost 1½ years old but you should see his social calendar already. And managing it resembles a command central operation.
Dubs is a 75-pound Alaskan Malamute who just happens to be the University of Washington’s mascot and a conformation show dog in the Pacific Northwest.
The point person on Dubs’ incredibly busy schedule is Anne-Lise Nilsen, his trainer, who works closely with Dubs’ family. Davina Gruenstein and her husband, Brent Knudson, have raised Dubs since he was nearly three months old in their Sammamish, Washington (a Seattle suburb), home.
Representing The University of Washington
The coordinated ownership agreement also includes the University of Washington and breeders Dorrit and Mike Evensen (Akaila Alaskan Malamutes), of nearby Snohomish, Washington.
“Coordinating Dubs’ schedule is very much a team effort,” emphasizes Nilsen. “When someone requests Dubs they go to a UW website and complete an appearance request form, which then goes to a form in which we coordinate availability of the humans in Dubs’ life. The first step is: Are Davina and Brent available to transport Dubs to the event for which he was requested? The next element is: Do we have student handlers available (fulltime UW students) to attend the event with him? And while he is still in the training phase I am available to attend, as well.”
While Dubs remains in training, Nilsen must be on-hand for every appearance.
Another key priority is maintaining a schedule for the young dog that does not overwork him. “We like to keep events less than 45 minutes, provide him adequate breaks, and avoid back-to-back or overly stressful appearances,” adds Nilsen. “Dubs loves to work and attend his mascot duties, but it is up to us to maintain a schedule that promotes him continuing to love his job while not overworking him. Once we determine we can do an event, I contact the event point of contact and let him/her know Dubs is confirmed or is unavailable, then we work out the finer details.”
Nilsen’s role is part-time – she is the manager of a dog daycare/boarding/grooming/training facility in nearby Mukilteo, Washington. Most weeks include about five hours of Dubs-related activities.
Front and Center
Dubs is front and center at all Husky home football games and at many other UW sports events throughout the school year. And this year, that included a Rose Bowl appearance in Pasadena, California, Jan. 1.
When it was decided that Dubs I would be retired, Nilsen played the lead role in finding his replacement. She found the Evensens, evaluated the litter, and was on the committee that selected the owners/caretakers and began training him at eight weeks of age.
The committee included Nilsen; the Evensens; Rachel Doyle, the University of Washington Department of Athletics director of marketing; and Brian Bowsher, the UW associate athletic director and chief marketing officer.
The early stages focused on socializing him to a variety of environments in which he would be eventually be navigating as the mascot. Next up was learning to sit/pose for photos with fans, interacting with boosters, learning fun UW-themed “party tricks” and his most public role of leading the football team out of the tunnel and onto the field on game days before 60,000-plus cheering fans.
“Aside from the dog-training element, I also work with his family to make certain they are supporting him in a fashion that sets him up for a fun, healthy career and following the same level of consistency in the home life that supports his training as a mascot,” adds Nilsen.
His UW duties take precedent, but Dubs will likely return to the show ring in June or July and will be handled by either Nilsen or Dorrit Evensen.
Evensen adds, “Davina and Brent do a great job with him. They will bathe him and trim his nails before each show. And the nice thing about our breed is that there is not much to do to get them show-ready. If they have the right type of coat like Dubs, it is easy.”
Dubs is a quick learner and if he has been out of the show ring for weeks, one of the handlers will take him to a handling class for a refresher a week before.
Rose Bowl Appearance
Between appearances and shows, Dubs lives with Gruenstein, Knudson, and their two children — Jack, 12, and Maggie, 10, in a residential neighborhood.
He loves hugs, walks, chasing Dasher — a 3-year-old Ragdoll cat, and playing with Lucy Belle — a 6-year-old Labrador Retriever/American Pitbull mix and his household canine partner-in-crime.
He joins the family on outings whenever possible. Dogs are not usually allowed at the kids’ sporting events, but the perky Malamute joins the group on hikes, camping trips and road trips, and meals at pet-friendly restaurants.
But their most memorable – and Dubs’ first on-the-job road trip – was to the Rose Bowl last December.
He and his family (along with Nilsen and the Husky Marching Band) took a charter flight from Seattle to Los Angeles Dec. 28. They stayed at a downtown Los Angeles hotel room – Dubs and his family in one room and his trainer in the other – and attended numerous UW events the following days prior to the Jan. 1 game.
On game day, they bussed to the stadium, where Dubs assumed his popular on-the-field roles, this time in front of a crowd of 90,000-plus and a nationwide television audience. Following the game, Team Dubs bussed to the Burbank airport for its charter flight home. “It was a long day,” confesses Gruenstein, “but Dubs was a trooper with all of the challenges. It’s obvious, he’s loving his job.”
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The Perfect Home
Placing Dubs in the Gruenstein-Knudson household involved a sound, resourceful process involving 90-plus applicants.
For the couple, the procedure involved completing an 11-page application, multiple rounds of interviews, and a home visit. Already being members of the university’s mascot program was certainly a huge plus.
“When selecting the family we were looking for a combination of elements,” says Nilsen. “First, we wanted a home that we feel a Malamute would enjoy living in and that the Dorrit and Mike would feel comfortable placing a puppy in.
“That meant a family that could provide the right kind of exercise and enrichment for the breed and that a Malamute temperament would complement the family dynamics. Also, I wanted to make certain their training ideals matched with mine, which meant they must be open to or familiar with positive reinforcement training and one I could see having a good relationship with.
“We also wanted a family that would love Dubs for the dog that he is not just as a celebrity. This meant signing on for the life of the dog, not just for his working years. Secondly, we wanted Husky fans, preferably an alumni family that lived near campus and was eager to volunteer for the university and willing to work its schedule so that Dubs could get to all scheduled events.”
Lucy’s age, temperament, social demeanor, and basic manners made her a terrific role model for Dubs, which served as another factor in the decision process.
All this attention to detail in every aspect of Dubs’ life has resulted in a well-rounded dog who can rally a packed stadium, impress judges in the show ring, and cavort with her canine housemate Lucy in the backyard – all without skipping a beat.
“We feel so privileged to be the family that gets to snuggle with and care for Dubs outside of his high-profile mascot role,” Gruenstein smiles. “At home, he is smart, goofy, mischievous, and playful. He definitely knows when it’s time to go to work – he flips a switch and turns on his laser-sharp focus. We love sharing him with his fans and can’t wait to see how his career unfolds.”