Some mascots are cool. Others are kind of hard to figure. The banana slug should never have caught on as a mascot, yet, the University of California’s Sammy the Slug was even named top college mascot by no less than Sports Illustrated. Not to be outdone, the University of Arkansas at Monticello chose a crop eating boll weevil as theirs. And, perhaps strangest of them all, Evergreen State College picked Speedy the Geoduck (pronounced Gooey Duck), a highly suggestive clam with a long neck protruding from its shell.
Since there are plenty of weird mascots out there, can I make a case for bringing back what might be the best mascot ever, the fire dog? A polkadotted Dalmatian riding shotgun in a fire truck is an indelible image of pop culture and folklore. So, where have all the fire dogs gone?
When horse-drawn fire carriages hit the scene in the late 1700s, Dalmatians had already established a reputation as an ideal carriage dog partly because of their strength, vitality and size but also because they seem to have an affinity for horses. Dalmatians would run ahead of the wagons barking the alarm to get out of the way. At the fire scene, they would stay with the horses and help keep them calm with an added duty of protecting the firefighting equipment. Back at the station they became companion animals to the horses in their stalls, in addition to killing a few rodents and keeping thieves away from the firehouse’s valuables. In other words, they pulled their weight!
When horse drawn wagons gave way to a different kind of horsepower, Dalmatians were no longer needed to sound the alarm or keep the horses company. Highlighting their changing role was a gradual shift from calling them fire dogs to calling them firehouse dogs. They did, and in some places still do, find their way into fire trucks on route to fires and parades, but their role is now closer to that of trophy wife than a working employee of the fire department.
Let’s state the obvious. The fire dog is no longer needed for the original jobs it performed, but perhaps this creates an opportunity. They are still great mascots when in the public eye and great companions when hanging out at the station. The only drawback with Dalmatians (I know I’ll take a hit from Dalmatian owners on this one) is that they tend to be fiercely loyal to their “family” at the fire station but are cool and aloof towards strangers from outside it, including other dogs. In other words, they look the mascot part but may not always act it.
Might I suggest that this is a great opportunity to look at the qualifications of other breeds. I realize there will be push back from traditionalists who feel that the only suitable fire dog must have black spots on a white background. This is simply a PR problem, easily solved by dressing up a friendly Lab, Golden, Beagle, Collie or Mixed Breed in a clever outfit (see picture) and inviting a bunch of young children over to the fire station to say hello. Have him (or her) work the crowd for a half hour and it’s case closed! The fire dog’s polling numbers are the envy of every politician and will only improve the already positive image of the local fire department. It’s time to bring back the fire dog!