Everyone Loves Jonathan: The inside story of the UConn mascot

Every student on campus knows his name, but not everyone knows his story. Jonathan, the two-year-old, blue-eyed Siberian black and white husky is the 14th of his kind.

There are currently three Jonathans on campus: two canine and one costumed mascot. Jonathan XIII, an all-white husky, has retired as the official mascot, but does show his face occasionally.

The costumed mascot attends UConn games on and off-campus, but the university exercises very little control over the dog himself. For example, it does not control what events he appears at or who takes care of him, nor do they pay for his care.

Instead, the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity has that responsibility. Members of the group are in charge of walking him, feeding him, grooming him, taking him to the vet, and deciding which events on campus he should attend. There is a committee of 15 handlers within the fraternity that care for Jonathan.

The university reaches out to Alpha Phi Omega when it wants to make a promotional video or photo shoot. Athletics also invites the husky to games.

Considering the difficulties of caring for an animal in a college dorm room, a host family off-campus also takes care of Jonathan XIV and his predecessor, Jonathan XIII.

Leann Hennessey and Erica Ballas are two of Jonathan’s caregivers. Hennessey has been caring for Jonathan since the spring of 2016, and Ballas since the fall of 2014. They are both undergraduate students.

Student groups, athletics, fraternities and sororities can request Jonathan to appear at their event through his email. The committee asks a few questions to the groups to make sure Jonathan will be in a safe situation. Jonathan usually attends two events each week, including football, basketball and other nonathletic events, though he doesn’t usually attend events with a lot of food, in case he grabs a bite.

Jonathan is on a special grain-free and soy-free diet, so he can’t enjoy the treats some of his fans give him. He takes hour long walks twice a day with his caregivers, and when the weather is nice he goes for a jog twice a week.

He is not a normal pup, however. Jonathan has gone through training to help him stay calm in large and loud crowds. Several huskies were retired early because they did not handle busy crowds well.

Jonathan went to puppy training and canine good citizenship training at John Gagnon’s Pet Resort, which also sponsors Jonathan. When he’s out at events, caregivers strategically place themselves around him in a crowd to surround him with people he knows. If he seems to get anxious or restless, the caregivers get him out of the situation fast.

He takes hour long walks twice a day with his caregivers, and when the weather is nice he goes for a jog twice a week.

When he’s not being adored by the UConn community, Hennessey and Ballas described him as a “normal, family dog.”

Alpha Phi Omega has an application process their members must go through to join the committee. There is a quiz portion about Jonathan’s history and how to care for a dog. The student’s availability is also considered. A car is necessary to drive to the off-campus house, but members can carpool.

The first Jonathan mascot arrived on campus in 1934, cared for by the Student Senate, now called the Undergraduate Student Senate. In 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, the Student Senate was considering selling Jonathan due to concerns that he represented the establishment.

Following a student petition to keep Jonathan on campus, the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity assumed responsibility of the mascot.

Like most dogs, Jonathan has a few quirks. Jonathan is more interested in and friendly toward men than women, because most of his caregivers are women. Additionally, he is “infatuated by beards,” Ballas said.

Grocery shopping carts also intimidate the playful mascot, Hennessey said.

She added that Jonathan is a playful dog who is always in a good mood.

Jonathan XIV learned how to be a mascot from his older friend, Jonathan XIII. Hennessey and Ballas said Jonathan XIV is still a puppy and the older dog controls when and how they play. Ballas spoke about how Jonathan has become a significant part of Alpha Phi Omega, but also how he has become an important part of the UConn community.

“He’s definitely a part of the family for all of us,” Ballas said.


Claire Galvin is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.