Horses, Cougars, Cattle: In Defense of Live Animal Texas Mascots
The University of Houston's live animal mascot recently died. Shasta VI, a cougar, was euthanized because he had a couple of progressive diseases and it was the humane thing to do. But should a Texas college even have a live cougar as a mascot? Should any Texas school have any live animal mascot?
I'm sure there are plenty of folks with very firm, very heart felt opinions on this matter. But I think its an issue best thought of with nuance and grace. It is important to be kind to animals, but traditions matter too.
It should boil down to a couple things: what kind of animal is it, and can the animal be cared for at all times properly?
Luckily, the most recent Shasta lived his life in the Houston Zoo. Shasta as a live mascot also provides an opportunity to educate the public about cougars and hopefully endear them to cougars as well. Shasta was orphaned when a hunter illegally killed his mother. Clearly, UH has come a long way in their treatment of their mascot:
Shasta V was the last cougar on campus for years because of liability issues. She was declawed and had her fangs removed, but she occasionally bit her handlers
UH has not decided if they will have another Shasta, but they have stated that if they do it will again be in partnership with Houston Zoo.
But what about other live animal Texas mascots?
Texas A&M has Reveille, a Border Collie. A properly trained dog who is acclimated to large crowds seems like the best live animal choice possible, if the animal is to appear in stadium during games. If she's anything like my dog, she's thrilled to receive human attention and can't get enough of the stuff.
My alma mater Texas Tech University's mascot is an animal/ human assemblage, The Masked Rider. Horses are animals that have been bred for centuries to handle human interaction and even crowds. The human part of The Masked Rider is a student that is passionate about riding and takes exquisite care of the animals they are responsible for. This isn't to say that horses don't get spooked and that nothing can go wrong. You may remember the tragic incident in which a horse did get spooked and died after hitting a wall. I strongly feel this was simply a freak accident and not a reason to discontinue the program.
Baylor University in Waco has an actual bear, Judge Sue "Lady" Sloan. Lady is kept in an enclosure on campus and does not attend games. I think this is akin to the lions at MGM Grand in LAs Vegas. They seem very unbothered by the observation of people around them, and they are not forced to do anything they don't want to do. Having a bear on the field would be dangerous and irresponsible as bears cannot be domesticated. One mark of cruelty does exist for the bears- they no longer get free Dr. Pepper:
In 1996, the school stopped feeding their bears Dr. Pepper (a Waco staple) at games. “To be honest, soft drinks make the current bear really, really hyper,”
But what about the most famous Texas college mascot of all time, Bevo? Let's be honest, Bevo, in all his incarnations, looks intimidating, tough, and actually quite beautiful. An enormous, long-horned bull just screams "Texas" to me. I know I shouldn't be hyping up my alma mater's rival but I give credit where its due.
Bevo got into a some trouble after he charged Uga the bulldog. Bevo and all bulls can be dangerous animals- isn't that why rodeos exist? However, I would argue that cattle are domesticated animals, and if properly handled, can make public appearances safely. I'm just glad UT stopped eating him:
The first Bevo made his only appearance at a Thanksgiving Day game against Texas A&M University. He lived for less than four more years, and was cooked and served at a banquet.
Animals have always had the power to evoke strong emotions in people. Whether they filled us with a sense of power, awe, beauty or love, experiencing animals is one of the best things about being human. I don't feel that excluding animals from human activity is the right answer, so long as the animal's safety and well-being are paramount.