ATHENS, Ga. -- Sonny Seiler has heard the comments and questions: Is there something wrong with the Uga line? Why not take the interim title off Russ? What about using that Isaiah Crowell puppy?
Seiler, whose family has been breeding the Georgia mascot for more than half a century, sought to answer a few of those queries and clear up some things.
But in an interview Friday, while driving back to Savannah after a UGA athletic board meeting, Seiler also spoke of how rough it has been to have two straight Uga mascots die unexpectedly. He noted that the litter mates of Ugas VII and VIII are healthy, so their deaths were not the result of breeding.
There’s a misconception, Seiler added, that the Uga line is inbred. In fact, while the father of a litter is always part of the Uga line, which dates to 1956, the mother is “totally remote from the Uga line,” according to Seiler.
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So tying the deaths of the past two Ugas to inbreeding is inaccurate, according to Seiler. Uga VII died in Nov. 2009 of a malfunctioning valve in his heart. Uga VIII died of lymphoma in February.
“Cancer is cancer. It hits people. It hits animals. In neither case was it hereditary,” said Seiler, who lives in Savannah and is a board member emeritus at UGA. “That puts down those soothsayers out there who say we need a new process of breeding.”
Right now Russ -- who is the brother of Uga VII -- is back in the interim role. But Seiler said Russ isn’t a candidate for the permanent role because he is too old.
“Russ is a very popular mascot,” Seiler said. “You’d be surprised the number of people who are hitting on us and the athletic department to, ‘Go ahead and use Russ. Why not Russ?’ Well, Russ is more than 6 years old. The longest we’ve ever used a dog is 10 years. So we’d be doing this again real soon.”
That said, Russ could end up being the father of the next Uga.
There have been two litters born since February. A third is expected in June, fathered by Russ.
The plan is to have Russ serve as the mascot until the latter part of the football season. Typically, the Seilers like puppies to be 6 or 7 months old before the are ready to serve as the full-time mascot.
“Now that we’ve got Russ, we’re not under any great pressure this time, because we have Russ,” Seiler said. “But we do want to get IX as soon as we can, without rushing things or guessing something that might later turn out to be a bad guess. We guessed right on VII and VIII, and either one of them were going to be a wonderful mascot. You can look at their pictures and you’d hardly tell the difference between them and (Uga VI). But, unfortunately, nature took them from us at a very early age.”
Great care is also taken with the mascot’s health, Seiler said. They quietly take him to the vet school at Georgia for a physical every time they come to Athens, and sometimes in between. The UGA small animal teaching hospital is considered among, if not the best, in the South.
“Greg McGarity knows everything we do. So did Damon Evans. So did Vince Dooley. We keep them advised quietly and privately of everything that goes on with these dogs’ lives,” Seiler said.
There was a groundswell in February for another Uga candidate: Crowell’s signing ceremony, carried on national television, saw him choose Georgia by brandishing a white bulldog puppy.
Mike Woods, a Georgia fan famous for painting his bald head for games, said he owned the dog and that it was part of the Uga lineage. Woods said the dog’s great uncle was Uga VI and told the Ledger-Enquirer he was going to offer him up to be the next Uga.
On Friday, Seiler said the whole thing was “a nice gesture” but left it at that.
“There are people who are forever trying to inject the dog to be the mascot,” Seiler said. “We know the origin of that dog (at Crowell’s ceremony), and I’m not going there. But everybody is entitled to a dog of any kind. And just because there’s a vacancy of a mascot doesn’t mean we’re going to open that door and take a dog, because we’ve got 56, 57 years invested in this.”