We expect much from pets: companionship, security, maybe even a laugh or two. There are lots of pet stories out there but I may be the only person who can claim to have been bought a beer by a nutria.
November being a month when sports is at its zenith, with football nearing the championships and basketball now in play, one special type of pet (sort of) comes to mind: the team mascot. In the early days of the Saints franchise there was actually a real St. Bernard in attendance at all the home games. He was the original Gumbo. Eventually he was replaced by a costumed version of himself.
Hugo, of the Hornets, is the most theatrical of all the mascots, frequently performing skits during time-outs, even joining the line with the Honey Bees dance team when duty calls. Then there was his slimmed-down alter ego, Super Hugo, who would run, bounce off a springboard and carry a basketball through a hoop. No mascot was ever as athletic.
Boudreaux, the Zephyrs’ nutria mascot, isn’t quite as physical but he does show a fondness for dancing on dugouts – and an eye for female nutria. Several seasons ago we watched when he married the lovely Clotile at the ballpark.
In 1998 I attended a Zephyrs game where I worked my way to the first row behind the dugout. On the way there I had stopped to buy a small beer, which I placed, between sips, on top of the dugout. This was a league championship game hastened to completion because of Tropical Storm Frances churning in the Gulf. Perhaps it was the importance of the game, or the fear of the storm, but Boudreaux was extra excited that day, so much so that while going through his motions he accidentally kicked my beer, sending an amber wave toward the aisle. A sharp-eyed usher saw the incident and within moments brought me a replacement beer that was at least triple the size of the one I had bought.
Because of Boudreaux I had experienced one of life’s great gifts – a beer upgrade.
Of all the team animals there was, for a couple of seasons, a real dog who worked the Saints games. He was Fetch Monster, an Australian shepherd dog whose job it was to run onto the field and retrieve the kicking tees after each kickoff. The fans loved it, especially during those days when watching a dog snatch a tee was more entertaining than watching the team. Then came the disastrous season of 1999 under Mike Ditka when the Saints finished with a record of 3-13. The day after the season ended, owner Tom Benson cleaned house, firing not only the entire coaching staff but, except for one person, the entire front office as well. Even Fetch Monster got caught up in the changes.
New management replaced Fetch Monster on the sidelines with kids du jour – a gesture that was cute but has never generated as many laughs.
Among sports animals, give Fetch Monster credit. He was a dog – the most popular of pets – and he was real; the preferred way to have a dog. There is no word how he spent his retirement, though he could have developed a second career fetching beers. Boudreaux might have used the help.