A typical semester finds student-athletes juggling the obligations of attending classes, practice, conditioning, and studying. It’s a hectic schedule and sticking to it should be commended by those on the outside looking in, as this particular subset of college students works to attain a degree while also training to contribute in their sport.
And yet for some on the Wisconsin Badgers football team, they have taken on the extra responsibility of owning a pet.
A cramped daily grind becomes even more strained when you are not only responsible for yourself, but another living being.
“They always say a dog is man’s best friend,” running back Chris James said back in early September. “He’s always there, and I always tell people, no matter how the day’s going, I could have the worst day ever, but I walk through the door and it’s like Superman walked in.
“It’s like the biggest day, he’s jumping, he’s extremely happy, and I tell myself, ‘Maybe today wasn’t too bad at all.’”
James’s pitbull, a two-year old American Staffordshire Terrier named Chief, accompanied him from Pittsburgh to Wisconsin. According to the redshirt junior, he adopted Chief when he was about seven weeks old.
Like James, other Badgers interviewed about their four-legged friends all took on the responsibility of caring and nurturing a puppy. The fourth-year back experienced the growing pains of training a young dog, noting at times he was “extremely stressed out.”
“I told them, ‘Hey, if I was to get a dog now, I’d get a dog that’s at least a little older because you have to go through that phase,’” James said. “Now my dog’s fine, I can leave him at home for three or four hours. He’s not going to destroy the place.”
Make no mistake, though—James loves his pup. So does Chris Orr, who takes care of Gucci, now around eight months old and described by the redshirt sophomore inside linebacker as a “blue-nosed pitbull.”
Has Gucci torn up anything? According to Orr back in late September, the only thing he wrecks are his own toys.
“I can’t buy him like rubber balls or anything like that,” Orr said. “It has to be something hard because he’ll just destroy the little rubble balls. I gave him a little basketball and a little football, and he killed it, like destroyed it completely, so I definitely have to give him a bone or something hard.”
Orr shared that he and a couple of other Badgers like Keldric Preston and Patrick Johnson actually adopted pups from former Wisconsin defensive back Serge Trezy. Orr actually wanted to own a dog last year, saying “everybody kind of advised me to get one” after suffering a right knee injury in Wisconsin’s win over LSU that cost him the rest of his 2016 campaign.
Orr finally found the opportunity to do so, mentioning that Trezy’s two dogs produced nine additions to the household this past summer. The inside linebacker boasted Gucci was the fourth to be born out of the litter.
“He’s a big boy, biggest of his litter,” Orr said proudly. “Real big head, meaty body. He’s just a joy to be around.”
Gucci loves people and watching cartoons.
“He loves Courage,” Orr said. “I put Courage the Cowardly Dog on for him. He kinds of sits up and watches it until he falls asleep.”
Orr and outside linebacker Zack Baun are roommates, so in essence Gucci and Baun’s 11-month-old puppy, Chance, are roommates as well.
Baun and his girlfriend adopted the then-13-week-old purebred golden retriever from an organization called Fetch Wisconsin Rescue back in May.
Thanks to some great pictures taken by Baun’s girlfriend and some witty writing, the pup has become pretty popular on Instagram. Chance has his own Instagram account with 1,020 followers as of Saturday.
“The dog kind of gets his own personality by what we post as the caption,” Baun said on Dec. 26 via phone from Miami. “He’s kind of got a sassy, bratty teenage personality, I guess.”
Now that Chance is older and owning the social media game, he’s getting more recognition in public.
“Oh my God, it’s ridiculous,” Baun said. “Especially when he was a puppy, not so much now, but nowadays since his Instagram page is getting more popular, people will come up to us and be like,’ Is that Chance the Yapper?’
“We’re like, ‘Yeah.’”
Baun has had time to bond with Chance early on, but under less-than-ideal circumstances after suffering a left foot injury that cost him his 2017 season.
“When I got injured, I thought it really helped me coming home to a dog everyday,” Baun said. “It helped my emotional side.”
Baun continues to progress from his injury, stating he ran on land for the first time on Dec. 26. He also said his rehab will continue into winter conditioning but he should be good for spring practices. He praised his girlfriend for the care she provides their dog right now, as well as the support that the pup has given.
“Chance, he’s a registered emotional support animal,” Baun said, “so he’s just kind of calm and it’s just relaxing to have a dog and a companion that’ll always be there even when things aren’t going so well.”
That companionship between man and dog is common throughout this roster of Badgers.
“If I had a bad practice or not so good of a day, just coming home, he’s never had a bad day,” Orr said. “He’s always happy to see me. That’s how it’s affected me as well, always putting a smile on my face. Love that little dude.”
That also means the players have to provide for their pets while juggling the ins and outs of class schedules, practices, and working out to stay in playing shape.
A junior college transfer, redshirt junior Andrew Van Ginkel adopted an eight-week-old husky named Piper back in the middle of summer.
The outside linebacker has had to adapt to moving to a new university since coming to Madison in January and shouldered more responsibility in providing for Piper.
“I do my best trying to take her out and just spend time with her,” Van Ginkel said back in September. “It’s awesome to go home, and you can just spend time with her, relax, watch her play, play with her. It just keeps me calm and really helps me out.”
When the team is traveling, that can add to the complications of finding proper arrangements. Baun relies upon his girlfriend and others, while Orr said he can ask neighbors and Wisconsin men’s basketball forwards Khalil Iverson and Charles Thomas plus some members of the women’s basketball team to watch Gucci.
Though there is added responsibility when owning a pup, the impact they have on the players is significant.
“It’s affected my life tremendously because he depends upon me,” Orr said. “Everything he gets is from me. He depends upon me so much that I feel like if i let him down or if I leave him alone for too long that I’m just the worst person on earth. He’s so happy to see me everyday so I always feel bad leaving in the morning.”
Owning their pets also allows the players to bond together more. Baun mentioned Chance and Van Ginkel’s Piper get along, and whenever other Badgers’ pups need to let off some energy, a trip to the dog park is in order.
It is just an added dynamic to an already close Wisconsin team that won 13 games to close out a historic 2017 season.
“Dogs are awesome. There are plenty of guys on the team, so I bring them over and they like hanging out with her,” Van Ginkel said. “Other guys with dogs, we let them play together. It’s just bonding together and it’s awesome.”