The mascot’s journey to his spot on the sideline actually began days earlier at the Wise Center, home to Mississippi State’s College of Veterinary Medicine. There, the reigning Bully, who answers to the name Jak, rests on an oversized, orthopedic dog bed as he waits for Lisa Pritchard, an animal health technician.
“Bully has an office and lets me use the desk occasionally,” Pritchard says jokingly. “I’m his full-time mom, trainer, roommate, whatever you want to call me. He comes to work with me almost every day and hangs out while I see patients.”
The sound of paws skittering across the tile floor starts as soon as Pritchard turns the door handle. In an excited rush to greet her, Jak crashes into her legs and crumples into a heap at the threshold. It’s a comical, canine spectacle not usually displayed by Bully, but it’s OK because today he’s just a dog in a collar. Tomorrow he will be in the official MSU harness—then it’s all business.
Pritchard has taken the afternoon away from her full-time work responsibilities at the vet school to prepare Jak for the next day’s festivities, including a live broadcast of “SEC Nation” from the Junction and Mississippi State’s Southeastern Conference opener against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. While the football team runs drills and the marching band rehearses, Jak begins his game- day preparations with a quick pedicure.
A Dremel tool with a coarse sandpaper attachment sends up small puffs of dust as Pritchard carefully files down Jak’s nails. He’s so familiar with the process that he doesn’t even flinch at the high-pitched whirring noise that fills the air. He does, however, pull back from the buzzing of the electric razor as she uses it to shave his whiskers—not because it hurts, but more because it seems to tickle.
Pritchard finishes this first phase of grooming with something called the Furminator. She uses it to brush Jak’s fawn and white coat to remove loose hair and help make it shiny. Sprawled across her lap, he endures this part with contented sighs and sleepy eyes.
Like his father and grandfather, 2-year-old Jak is an American Kennel Club-registered English bulldog. Of the three, he is more trim and well proportioned, and Pritchard predicts he will be tallest and broadest once he reaches his full adult size.
“A lot of people think of bulldogs as fat, lazy dogs, but that’s not what they’re meant to be,” Pritchard explained. “I keep my boys trim and athletic. It helps them stay active and increases their longevity.”
Pritchard takes special care to ensure MSU’s “boys” are healthy specimens of the bulldog breed, which is often troubled by breathing, skin and joint problems. To help with this, Jak gets hydro-therapy that provides low-impact exercise to keep him in shape without stressing his joints.
The underwater treadmill helps stretch Jak’s legs in preparation for busy workdays, like home football games. Not a swimmer by nature, he doesn’t care for today’s water level and lets everyone know through excessive splashing. Draining a couple of inches seems to put him at ease and he completes his treatment with only a mild look of displeasure.
Afterward, he clicks down the hall to his next aquatic adventure—a bath. This water-based fun involves a soothing rub down so he is much less apprehensive standing in the metal tub. While Pritchard lathers him up and sprays off the suds Jak periodically shakes—a movement that starts at his head and ripples down through his tail—ensuring anyone within 3 feet gets damp.
The smell of coconut-scented shampoo follows in his wake as he walks back to the office for a nap while Pritchard makes calls to finalize the next day’s schedule.
It’s 8:30 a.m. on game day and, although kickoff isn’t until 6 p.m., Jak is getting ready. Sitting in the living room with his French bulldog “sister” Pixie and Iggy, a brindle cat, he perks up when Pritchard walks to her bedroom. As soon as she picks up his bag and causes the attached bell to jingle, he’s up and running her way, ready to load up and head to work.
The band plays to pump up the crowd that’s gathered behind the stage. As Tim Tebow and Paul Finebaum analyze the day’s upcoming SEC matchups, Jak waits in the wings for his turn in the spotlight. Unfortunately, that means waiting for an hour on the hot asphalt in the bright sunlight.
A couple of quick shots of Jak posing with the cheerleaders and a few belly rubs fulfill Jak’s television obligations for the morning and Pritchard is able to rush him back to the Wise Center for a much-needed timeout in the air conditioning.
“I can tell when he’s getting tired,” Pritchard says as she maneuvers the golf cart between parked cars. “He’s getting too hot and needs to rest.”
Just as important as what she teaches budding Bullies to do, are the dog behaviors she trains them to not display. Once in his official Mississippi State gear—a leather harness with MSU studded on the front and a small cowbell attached at the neck—Jak, like his predecessors, knows he cannot roll onto his back, rear up or lick a person.
“When we’re at home everything is relaxed and we play, but you put that harness on and it’s all business,” Pritchard explains. “My demeanor changes, his demeanor changes and he know it’s time to go to work.”
Leaving the Junction to head into the game is no easier than arriving. With one arm securely around Jak, who is perched happily in the passenger seat, Pritchard guides the maroon golf cart into a convoy of police cars to help ensure they make it into Davis Wade Stadium in time for their pregame performance.
One glance into the throngs of people making their way to the stadium gates shows dozens of cell phone-wielding fans trying to snap a picture as they roll by.
“If I had a nickel for every picture taken of Bully, I could have retired years ago,” Pritchard says. “He’s easily the most photographed dog in three states.”