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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Athletics department hires dog for football games

UC Davis sporting events boast many crazy things, including interesting costumes, wild fans and lots of blue and gold. But when most Aggies go to a home football game, seeing a dog running on the field is at the bottom of their list of expectations.

However, since the end of October, UC Davis football home game attendees can see Pint, a two-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, picking up the on-field tees after kickoffs.

When UC Davis Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Scott Brayton was introduced to the idea of involving a dog in football games in late August from a student ticket holder at Boise State University, he contacted the veterinary school to find a dog and owner who would be willing to participate.

“We thought it would be a nice partnership with the School of Veterinary Medicine and something that all of our fans would enjoy seeing,” Brayton said. “It’s something that not all fans would see at a football game.”

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine professor and Pint’s owner Danika Bannasch heard about Brayton’s interest and immediately thought of her dog as a good fit for the job.

“I was interested in participating because I wanted to try to promote the [UC Davis] Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH),” Bannasch said. “I think the VMTH is a fantastic place.”

The UC Davis VMTH is one of the top-ranking on-campus veterinary hospitals in the country, treating and saving thousands of animals every year. Bannasch said that Pint’s grandmother was saved by the hospital when she was sick with poisoning, making the cause more personal for her and Pint.

“I wanted to try and give back something to the VMTH,” Bannasch said. “At the games, they announce Pint as the ambassador for the vet school and they say that his grandma was saved by the clinicians at the hospital.”

Pint was unveiled to the UC Davis community during the Oct. 27 football game versus Portland State. But before this, Pint had to go through some training to learn what exactly his job entailed.

“If anyone has seen my dogs, they know I can’t train dogs at all,” Brayton said. “My job was to help [Bannasch] understand the elements that the job requires.”

Bannasch’s husband and coordinator for the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, Michael Bannasch, said that Pint had a very good first performance due to the training he did with Danika.

“I think my wife has done a really great job in training our dogs,” Michael said. “She’s just been an exceptional animal breeder and trainer and each one of her dogs is a kid to her.”

Pint and Danika did a few test rounds with fake tees at a couple of the football team’s practices. Pint is a champion and senior hunter — titles awarded to him based on canine competitions. Therefore, Danika had a relatively easy time training him.

“Because of his high-level training, it wasn’t hard to train him,” Danika said. “It took me about five seconds to teach him how to pick up the tee.”

However, the duo did run into one problem while training, something that caused a change in Pint’s game-day routine.

“He retrieves ducks for a living,” Danika said. “The challenge that we had is that the football looks a lot like a duck. So I have to turn him around every time the football is kicked.”

Initially, Pint was only scheduled to come pick up the tee after the first kickoff, marking the start of the game.

“People wanted to see Pint do more than just the opening kickoff,” Brayton said. “After we heard that, Pint went on every time UC Davis scored.”

After nearly every kick, Danika and her family, who stand on the field’s sideline during games, line up Pint in the direction of the tee he is supposed to pick up. However, the first kickoff that Pint was supposed to be involved in didn’t go as planned, as the other team picked up the tee instead of Pint.

“It was actually a very interesting kickoff,” Brayton said. “We brought Pint out to pick up the tee, but the opposing team picked up the tee. So for the second kickoff, Pint came out and performed very well.”

Despite this minor setback, Michael said that the crowd showed appreciation for Pint’s involvement in the game. For although Pint has only been in two games this season — his most recent performance being at the Causeway Classic game against Sacramento State on Nov. 17 — his presence has been a crowd pleaser.

“We were surprised we kept hearing people yelling ‘Pint the dog!’ It was the first indication we got that people were enjoying it,” Michael said. “We are big Aggie fans — we both work at the university and are proud of it.”

According to Danika, Pint has been enjoying his new job too.

“He’s totally into it, and [during the Causeway Classic], he totally knew what he was doing,” Danika said. “[The football players] thought he did a good job; they really liked him being there.”

This link between the UC Davis vet school and athletics department is described by many as an example of building stronger connections within the university.

“We have one of the best vet schools in the country and it’s nice to combine that with the football team,” Danika said.

Even though this season has been short for Pint, Brayton and Danika are hopeful and confident that he will be back for years to come.

“[Danika] and Pint seem like the perfect fit for the role. The feedback we have received has been nothing but overwhelmingly positive,” Brayton said. “We look forward to working with Danika and Pint for the next season. ”

RITIKA IYER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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