Since Mission was introduced on national television last week, the popularity of the new NIU Huskie mascot has exploded.
So far, his introduction video, produced by the NIU Alumni Association, has received more than 35,000 views on vimeo.com. USA Today, Sports Illustrated and other news services have shared the video, making Mission a celebrity before he has even officially represented NIU.
“Given that the Huskies football program continues to climb in national prominence, we wanted to put a champion next to our NIU champions. Mission is that dog,” said John McKearn, an NIU Foundation board member.
McKearn and his wife, Cassandra, both NIU donors and alumni, are sponsoring the 2-year-old Siberian husky. Mission will follow in the footsteps of Diesel, NIU’s retiring husky, who received media fame recently when he gave a high-five at a football game.
Mission is owned by Shiver Siberians and will be raised in Marengo, Ill. During games, he will be handled by the NIU ROTC staff. The McKearns chose ROTC because of the corps’ exemplary participation and representation at sports programs, especially home football games. They also liked the idea of involving ROTC because both of their fathers were in the military.
ROTC cadets are known for doing pushups when a touchdown is scored. To follow that tradition, Lisa Monge, Mission’s owner and trainer in Sycamore, is teaching him how to do a modified pushup. He is also learning how to pull a wagon, shake hands and give a “low five.”
“Every time I’ve had the opportunity to work with him and train him,” Monge said, “he just always wants more.”
Monge is teaching him to have good manners and become comfortable with sounds and crowds. She has exposed him to Huskie hats, winter clothing and other outfits so he feels comfortable with different crowds. To get him accustomed to loud noises, she has taken him to a construction area, middle school and busy downtown area.
She views him as being an ideal symbol of NIU because of his athletic look. Mission has already taken to football and is learning the game.
“NIU gave him this little foam football with the school’s logo on it,” Monge said, “and he’s learning to go long and catch it on a pass.”
“The first time I saw him on the field, all he could concentrate on was the snow beneath his paws. The only thing that drew his attention away from the snow was his foam football,” said Milo Barsanti-Gonzalez, the NIU student who co-produced the video. “Even during last week’s game, I could see him playing with that football.”
When Mission was introduced on campus last week, people noticed the intensity and fierce look in his blue eyes.
“He’s super-intense, but underneath that intensity is this gentle little dog,” said Monge, who also manages Raven’s Husky Haven and Rescue. “He’s just a sweetheart and he’s such a gentleman.”
During the video, viewers see Mission’s serious side as he scans through books on a library shelf and his fun side as he romps on the NIU football field. “He loves the camera actually. He’s quite the little ham,” said Angela Johannson, director of marketing and communications for the NIU Foundation. “I feel like he’s a perfect mascot because he loves the attention, people love him, and he’s just so gorgeous.”