The athletics department searched for a new bulldog for students to rally behind and found Pumpkin, a 5-year-old English bulldog.
Athletic director Janet Cone met Pumpkin last year at a doggy day care and thought Pumpkin would be a great addition to athletic events.
“I was dropping my dog off at doggy day care one day and I was in there talking to the owners and I see this bulldog back there. I said to the owners of You Work, I’ll Play, ‘Whose bulldog is that? Would you ask the owner if it’s alright if you give me their contact information because we’ve kinda been thinking maybe we should get a live mascot again,’” Cone said.
Since Rocky I passed away in 2016, the UNCA campus has been without a live mascot.
“It just seemed like Pumpkin was the best fit for us, particularly with the owner’s availability, willingness and former knowledge of how a Bulldog mascot is,” Cone said.
Pumpkin’s owner, Tavel Cowan-Bell is a University of Georgia alumna where the mascot is also a bulldog.
All previous live mascots have been privately owned, according to Kevan Frazier, a former history faculty member.
“The idea was that you didn’t want the institution to own the dog because what if something happened? You don’t want a committee making a decision if there was a health issue with the dog or something like that. That always seemed unfair to the animal and that’s why UNCA has never owned it’s mascot, nor did anyone want the dog to live at school ‘cause that could be kinda a tough life,” Frazier said.
Cowan-Bell adopted Pumpkin two and a half years ago at a rescue facility.
“We had a bulldog before that whose name was Hershal and we lost Hershal to cancer. About six months later we decided we needed another dog in our life,” Cowan-Bell said.
Pumpkin was rescued by East Tennessee Bulldog and Boxer Rescue from a puppy mill and lived with a foster family before being adopted by Cowan-Bell.
“It was a lousy situation. They rescued about six bulldogs from this puppy mill. Almost all of them had medical issues,” Cowan-Bell said.
Pumpkin has had to have her tail and several teeth removed for medical reasons, according to Cowan-Bell.
Pumpkin’s favorite things are naps, treats and car rides, according to Cowan-Bell. Pumpkin met Chancellor Cable at last year’s homecoming game.
“We still didn’t know how it was gonna work out. You don’t know how dogs are gonna be around children, about noise and basketball courts,” Cone said.
Pumpkin and a few other bulldogs were brought to campus to test how comfortable they would be meeting students and appearing at games, according to Cone.
“Pumpkin passed the test with flying colors,” Cone said. “Pumpkin is very loving, so when kids come over to pet her you don’t have to worry. She’s got a good little personality to be around young children.”
The athletics department wanted a bulldog that would come to special events to increase excitement, according to Cone.
“We think Pumpkin’s a great fit for us. The previous Rocky that everyone loved, that dog was very friendly; students and children and adults got attached. When that Rocky died, people really mourned. We were really trying to find another mascot that had that same kind of personality,” Cone said.
The homecoming basketball game last spring was Pumpkin’s big debut, according to Cone.
“I would say for UNC Asheville, the mascot definitely has grown in knowledge and popularity after Rocky I,” Frazier said.
Frazier wrote an official pamphlet for the university that describes the UNCA bulldog tradition.
“The other important Rocky is the statue outside of the Justice Center,” Frazier said.
During commencement and graduation, students pet the Rocky statue for good luck, according to Frazier.
Pumpkin did not follow the same naming tradition as the previous mascot, according to Cone.
“Since Pumpkin was already Pumpkin we weren’t gonna start calling her Rocky,” Cone said.
When Cowan-Bell adopted Pumpkin she already had the name.
“I figured she had been through a lot. She spent a couple months with her foster home. They called her Pumpkin. It would be a lot to go by one name then go by another,” Cowan-Bell said.
The name ‘Rocky’ for UNCA’s mascot came about in 1993 when the institution hosted a naming competition, according to Frazier.
There has only been one live mascot named Rocky I, who was active from 2009-2016.
The first live mascot that UNCA had was a bulldog named Puck, after a character in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, according to Frazier.
“I think that bulldogs have often been animal mascots. Bulldogs have always had this sense of being this big tough beefy animal. You’re not gonna have the collies. Collies are great dogs but it doesn’t have the same sense. There’s a lot of bulldog mascots all over the country,” Frazier said.
Georgetown, Gardener-Webb, and the University of Georgia are all well known for their bulldog mascots.
The tradition of the UNCA Bulldog goes back nearly 100 years, according to Frazier.
“It goes back almost to our founding. It appears to date from when we first had teams in 1929 and our school was founded in 1927 so within the first couple years the students chose the mascot,” Frazier said.