Whether you’re a State fan or an Ole Miss Rebel, there’s something intriguing — and pretty cute — about a live mascot on the sidelines. Meet the MSU bulldog, Jak, and mascot coordinator Lisa Pritchard.
Written by Michaela Morris | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Bulldogs have been inseparable from Mississippi State University for more than a century. In 1905, the MSU student newspaper published an illustration of a bulldog puppy sitting on top of an Ole Miss-themed casket after MSU shut out their in-state rival 11-0. The live “Bully” tradition officially began in 1935 when an English bulldog named Ptolemy became Bully I ahead of a 20-7 victory over Alabama.
In the early days, the bulldogs roamed the campus. But starting in 1993 with Bully XIX, also known as Tonka, Bully has lived with Lisa Pritchard, a head veterinary technician in the small animal internal medicine and oncology departments of the MSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Tonka’s grandson Jak — named for the late MSU broadcaster Jack Cristil — currently serves as Bully XXI. Pritchard answered a few questions for us about what it’s like to care for the most famous bulldog in Mississippi.
Q: MSU fans love Bully. If they get the chance to meet him, what’s the best way to greet him?
A: In non-pandemic times, we are available pregame in the Junction right after the Dog Walk, for about 30 minutes, weather permitting. I only allow two to three people to approach him at a time. Huge crowds, without some sort of organization, don’t work for either one of us. (When people pose with him for photos) there’s no playing until after the photos. He doesn’t listen, and the people don’t listen if they play first. It’s easier to get the photo out the way first. Small children need to be supervised.
Q: What kind of training do you do to prepare the bulldogs for being on the sidelines during games?
A: The first thing we work on is potty training and normal commands (starting at 8 to 9 weeks old.) When they are about 4 months old, we start going out in public. We go to band practice and walk up and down between band members (to prepare for the loud music and stadium noises). We go to football practice, so he gets used to people running by him. We do the same thing with basketball practice and volleyball practice. A lot of it is socialization. I take him to work with me every day.
Q: What is Jak’s game prep schedule during football season?
A: For home games, on Friday, he gets a good bath and pedicure. The (veterinary) rehab department staff gives him a good massage. If it’s an away game, we do all that on Thursday.
Q: Beyond his game day responsibilities, what is involved in being Bully?
A: When my work schedule allows it, we visit offices (in the vet school) and classrooms across campus. We visit kindergarten and first-grade classes. The teachers are really good about letting us know when they have letter day or color day. We go to assisted living facilities. We love to spread the Bulldog wealth wherever we go.
Q: What is Jak’s life at home like? Does he have any four-legged friends?
A: He lives with three cats and a French bulldog sister. He gets to be a dog at home. He runs, plays and enjoys rolling around in the grass. He will even occasionally jump up on a visitor at home. But when I put on his leather harness, his demeanor changes. He doesn’t roll over to scratch his back or have his tummy rubbed. He doesn’t jump up on people. He’s still happy, but he’s focused.
Q: Does Jak have a favorite treat or toy?
A: He loves food. When he does well, he gets very low-calorie training treats. He knows exactly what pocket I keep them in. Probably his favorite toy is a Nylabone. He is on a special diet and not allowed to have any food except what I give him. (Fans should refrain from offering Jak treats.)
Q: What will this fall look like for Jak?
A: It breaks my heart we won’t be on the sidelines (because of SEC COVID restrictions). I haven’t missed a game in 10 or 12 years. We’ll be hosting a lot of things on his social media pages. If someone wants a one-on-one meet and greet, they can call the vet school. We don’t do a lot of one-on-one visits because of my schedule and his schedule, (but) we’re available October through April or May.
Q: You’ve looked after Bully for nearly 30 years. What has been the biggest reward?
A: It’s a lot of fun. Not only do I get to see people react to being able to meet and touch him, but also I’ve met wonderful people who’ve become lifelong friends. (And the dogs) have all been great dogs. I don’t know what I would do without them.