University of Washington

Think spring football practice is just for players? Even the Huskies mascot needs the experience

Washington's newest live mascot, 'Dubs II, was at spring practice Monday.
Washington's newest live mascot, 'Dubs II, was at spring practice Monday. The Tacoma News Tribune

Some of the plays being made this spring really could lead to Washington getting a new star .... oh-my-gosh-there's-a-puppy-and-he's-so-cute!

Here's where college football traditions collide. Monday was supposed to be the halfway point in UW's spring camp. The Huskies have 15 spring practice days and the attention normally reserved for a seminal date went to ... the new mascot? Well, yes. But there's a reason.

Very few people have seen 'Dubs II' since UW unveiled him to the world in late March. The barely 3-month-old Alaskan Malamute puppy was at practice because needed to practice, too. He won't officially become UW's new live mascot until 'Dubs' retires after the 2018 football season.

Still, the Huskies' mascot-in-waiting and his new owners are using the upcoming year to prepare for what life will be like for at least the next decade. And it just so happens that his "on-the-job training" includes going to spring practice.

"He has a lot training ahead of him. If we have fireworks (at an event), we need to get him used to fireworks," said Davina Gruenstein, a Sammamish resident and UW alum, who along with her family will be Dubs II's caretakers.

"To be able to that run out of the tunnel, there's a lot of training involved in that. Being used to the sound of a 70,000-person stadium, that's a hard thing to train him thing for.

"So we he won't have full-on commitments this year. He'll be in training. He'll be at the games, doing things along with Dubs I just to get used to it."

UW's athletic administration announced in January it was looking for a new live mascot that would be the 14th in school history.

The Huskies' brass was also seeking a new family who could take care of their new mascot for years to come. Granted there was still a process, but Gruenstein and her family had strong credentials.

Both she and her husband, Brent Knudson, are UW graduates who attend every home football game and a one road contest a year. They are Tyee Club members who owned an Alaskan Malamute for several years and were quite familiar of what comes with taking care of the breed.

It also helped that the day UW sent a notice to its Tyee Club members about taking care of Dubs II the family received a number of emails from friends saying they would be ideal caregivers. Plus, Brent really wanted them to apply.

"He's like, 'Wouldn't it be great to do this?' " Davina recalled. "And I was like, 'Um? Why wouldn't we do this?' I think we might have been the first application in."

Davina filled out the 11-page application and submitted it a few hours after UW sent word it was looking for a new host family.

The family did more than paperwork. They took part in several interviews with UW's marketing department. They met with Anne-Lise Nilsen, a 2014 UW graduate with a degree in animal behavior, who was enlisted by the university as a consultant. The family even met with the breeder responsible for the litter that produced UW's next live mascot.

After going through a few weeks of interviews, the family got a call from Nilsen. Davina had to go into another room to take the phone call. Once she got away from her children, Davina was told her family was chosen as the caretakers.

Davina said because the family lives in Sammamish, which is 21 miles east of Seattle, there's a little bit of a disconnect compared to as if they were to live closer to the campus.

"Out there, they're like, 'Oh. What a cute dog,'" she said. "There's a lot of people and we'll say, 'This is Dubs' and they don't even know."

She said gets a different response from anyone who has ties to UW or are Huskies' fans.

"We don't automatically tell them who he is but they'll ask his name and we'll say 'Dubs'," she said. "They'll say it's a cute name and how creative. They'll ask if he's trained and we say, 'Yeah. He's the mascot.' "

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark