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SMITH: Dogs already in heaven when they become Uga

The Associated Press. Georgia mascot Uga VII sits on the sideline during the fourth quarter of a college football game against Georgia Southern on Aug. 30, 2008, in Athens. Uga VII died on Nov. 19.

The Associated Press. Georgia mascot Uga VII sits on the sideline during the fourth quarter of a college football game against Georgia Southern on Aug. 30, 2008, in Athens. Uga VII died on Nov. 19.

Uga VII, Georgia's beloved mascot, has died. His death has brought about extended grieving for those who are attached to the nation's oldest chartered state university. But it goes beyond that. People who love animals -- especially the legion of dog lovers -- are grieving along with those who wave the red and black.

We hardly got to know the latest Uga. He was only 4 years old when he became a heart attack victim the week of Georgia's final home game. There was not sufficient time to learn about his idiosyncrasies. No time to learn what his personality was like. His life was akin to a sudden summer thunderstorm. As quickly as it comes on the scene, it departs.

Nonetheless, the outpouring of grief was just like it was for all of his forebears. University of Georgia partisans love their mascot with an affection that is often granted to people. How many dogs do you know that are given full-blown funerals? All of the Ugas are eulogized with the greatest of respect and sympathy. Ministers make remarks. University presidents pay tribute to Uga as they would to a distinguished alumnus. That was the way it was a week ago when Uga VII was interred at the Dawg cemetery at the west end of Sanford Stadium, just a few paces from the famous hedges.

Leading a Bulldog's life begins with his domicile in Savannah. Life with Sonny and Cecelia Seiler is one in which Uga has unchallenged priority. Uga sleeps in air-conditioned comfort, eats the best diet and has no required function. Everybody caters to him. Whatever Uga wants, Uga gets. It has been that way since 1956 when former athletic director Wallace Butts invited Sonny and Cecelia to use their all-white, male English bulldog as the school's official mascot.

Think of all the mascots in college football -- in a real sense. Only a few can truly function as pets, mainly because so many mascots are either ferocious animals (Tigers, Lions, Wildcats, Wolverines, Bears, Badgers), placid types -- which fans approach with trepidation, nonetheless (steers and Buffaloes) -- or imaginary characters (Blue Devils, Sun Devils, Demon Deacons).

Uga is a mascot that the world loves to love. Bulldogs are lovable and friendly. Even little kids warm up to Uga for hugs and kisses. No other mascot can claim greater feeling and rapport with its fan base than Uga. Would you want to hug the Michigan Wolverine? The California Bear? The LSU Tiger? The Kentucky Wildcat? The Wisconsin Badger?

Could you imagine the Florida Gator being on the field? Could you see the cheerleaders leading Albert and Alberta out for kickoff? Do you think Urban Meyer would go swimming with either one of them?

When you travel to other parts of the country and people learn you are affiliated with the Bulldogs, the thing most college fans are intrigued by is the fact that Georgia buries its mascots inside the stadium. "To my knowledge, we are the only school to do that," Seiler said.

It was Joel Eaves, former athletic director, who began the tradition of interring the Ugas in Sanford Stadium. "When Uga I died," Sonny said, "we had planned to bury him in our back yard in Savannah. But Coach Eaves called and asked if we would like to bury him in Sanford Stadium. We thought that was really a nice gesture, and that is how it all began. Our family is appreciative and sentimental about that tradition."

Soon, there will be Uga VIII and a new season. And with it will come a renewal of hopes for Georgia fans.

Loran Smith is co-host of "The Tailgate Show" and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.