You may laugh that an athletic department put out a press release -- including a quote from the athletic director -- to mourn the death of a mascot, but I couldn't swallow away the lump in my throat when I read that Uga VII had died Thursday. Certainly, Georgia fans will miss the white English bulldog whose wrinkly jowls were synonymous with their favorite school, but that's not the worst part.
Georgia lost its mascot, but Sonny Seiler lost his dog. Seiler, the Savannah-based Dawg who maintains the Uga line, has had to bury two Ugas in less than two years. "We are all in a state of shock," Seiler said in a news release issued by the university. "We had no warning whatsoever."
Uga VII was four years old. The 56-pounder died of heart-related causes. He had a certain quiet dignity some might have called laziness. He went 10-3 in 2008 as a "freshman" replacing his famous dad, but his team had stumbled to a 6-4 record this season. "Uga VII was not as active or mischievous as his father but more distinguished," Seiler said. "He realized his role when he put his shirt on. He was well-behaved and always appreciated the significance of his role."
I know Seiler has to be hurting, because I stood in his shoes 11 months ago.
Hazel was a long, floppy basset hound my wife adopted from a rescue in 2004. Hazel had a voracious appetite for anything she could snatch off the counter, and she loved to get her belly rubbed. She had a beautiful howling voice, but she never growled at anyone. She only barked when she got really excited. In fact, she only got that excited when she looked out the window and saw a neighbor across the street walking his white English bulldog.
Hazel came to us after someone found her wandering along the side of a rural road in north Florida. She had obviously just given birth to a litter, and the people at the rescue surmised she had been a puppy mill dog tossed aside when she outlived her reproductive usefulness. Because her true history was so awful, my wife and I often dreamed up outlandish back stories for Hazel. In one, she was a stand-in for Lassie. In another, she cashed in on that mesmerizing howl and cut a platinum record - but she traded away her fortune for dog treats.
Hazel never wanted anything but a soft place to sleep and someone to pet her. For the last few months of 2006, I spent several days a week in Orlando helping my father take care of my cancer-stricken mother. I would come home mentally drained and hopelessly sad. My wife usually was at work, but Hazel always greeted me with a thumping tail. I'd give her a big hug, and I'd find a reason to keep going. In the days after my mom's funeral, Hazel got a lot of hugs.
I broke down in the vet's office last October when the doctor told us Hazel had lymphoma. For the next two months, Hazel ate steak every night. When the time came in December, a vet came to our house, and Hazel fell asleep in my arms.
I have two wonderful dogs now, a young hound we bought in 2008 and an adult hound we rescued after Hazel died, but not a day goes by that I don't miss Hazel. I don't miss her the same way I miss the human family I've lost, but it's close. She only wanted me to be happy, and she never failed to make me smile.
So please don't chuckle about the passing of Uga VII. He was somebody's dog, and he's going to be missed.
And Uga VII, if you're reading this in doggie heaven, feel free to give Hazel a sniff. She always had a thing for white English bulldogs.