A day in the life of UConn’s top dog: Jonathan XIV
The dog days of summer are over and students across the state are heading back to campus. But there's one famous face that's already been roaming the University of Connecticut – ready for game day.
Jonathan XIV has nearly 45,000 Instagram followers and is considered a sports icon thanks to UConn’s many sports teams.
Jonathan’s handler, Erin McKeehan, is a senior at UConn and President of Alpha Phi Omega, which is the service fraternity that takes care of Jonathan.
McKeehan says Jonathan is used to all the attention.
“When people don’t say ‘hi’ to him, either because they don’t want to bother him or because they don’t realize who he is, he sometimes [will] be walking and he’ll turn his head around ... and he’s like, ‘What do you mean you’re not saying hi to me?’”
Jonathan is the 14th Husky mascot that UConn has had since the university welcomed the first Jonathan on campus in 1935. The first Jonathan’s reign was cut short when he was hit by a car at only 6 months old.
According to his caregivers, Jonathan XIV has more than 12 people who keep a watchful eye over him. “He’s got a whole team of people who walk him, take him to events, bring him to the vet, his doggy day care, the pet resort,” McKeehan said.
Tracy Cree, the Alpha Phi Omega liaison for UConn, helps facilitate Jonathan’s care. Cree has worked with the dog since he was a puppy and said he gets multiple hours of training every day.
Despite how beloved the current Jonathan is, there was a time when students voted for him to be removed as the mascot.
“In 1970, the Vietnam War was going on and the student government at the time said ‘Jonathan represents the man and the establishment and we don’t want him here as a symbol of the institution.’ So they voted to get rid of him,” McKeehan said.
Other students launched a petition to keep him and it was decided that Alpha Phi Omega would take care of Jonathan, which the organization has been doing for more than 50 years.
Leading the pack
UConn senior Ryan Garett said he couldn’t imagine his school without their beloved husky. “He’s the heart and soul of UConn,” Garett said.
Campus tour guide Ariana Nievez said seeing Jonathan always brightens people's day.
“Running into him is pretty nice. Like, you really do feel that school spirit and like you’re a part of UConn,” Nievez said. “Everyone knows that once you get that picture with Jonathan, it’s solidified that you go to UConn, that’s the mascot and you really just brag about it.”
University spokesperson Mike Enright said Jonathan’s profile has grown as the school has become a sports powerhouse.
“I think as pride has grown at UConn over the years, it’s been a natural pride in Jonathan, and what he represents has grown as well. And like I said, everyone loves a cute dog,” Enright said.
Despite the fame, his handlers said they try to give him a normal life outside of his mascot duties. When he’s not working, Jonathan stays with his host family. Their identity has been kept a secret for privacy and safety reasons.
“When he’s home, he’s a house dog. He’s not supposed to be the micro-celebrity of the UConn mascot,” McKeehan said. “But they’re really fantastic. They love him very, very dearly.”
Time to retire?
Jonathan is 8 years old and will likely retire at some point in the next few years. He has been the official mascot since he took over for Jonathan XIII, who retired at 6 years old because of stress and passed away last year.
According to his handlers, the current Jonathan will let them know when it’s the right time for him to retire.
“Ultimately, Jonathan XIV will be the decider,” McKeehan said, “If there’s any indication he’s not enjoying it, then we’ll get together.”
McKeehan said one sign that Jonathan might be ready to be benched — the many bleachers to climb at Gampel Pavilion and Rentschler Field that could tire out an aging mascot. Regardless of when this Husky retires, for now, he’s enjoying the spotlight as much as he can … and some Dairy Bar ice cream.