The dogs behind the Dawgs

By Jordan Duncan

For Vicki and Jim Blair, walking the dogs sometimes includes five leashes, excitement and crowds of people.

The Blairs volunteer their time and 10 saluki dogs to SIU. Vicki and Jim, who live in Herrin, bring some of their dogs to the university for special events and to run on the field during home football games.

They said this is both an educational opportunity, as well as a positive experience for students. Vicki said incoming students react so positively because they miss their pets from home.

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The Blairs started raising salukis eight years ago, when a friend from Florida who breeds salukis, offered a puppy from a planned litter. In August 2013, their first Saluki, Kiya, a brown saluki bearing a white mark, gave birth to eight puppies. Six of that litter remains in the Blair household.

“When we first moved down here, I was not even aware that SIU’s mascot was the Saluki,” Vicki said. She said she has had an infatuation with the breed from a young age.

The Blairs are active with the school, and are members of the Alumni Association. Their daughter studied dental hygiene at the university 15 years ago.

“It’s really nice because they make us feel like we’re part of it,” Vicki said. “It’s like we belong.”

Tom Weber, assistant administrative director for media services, said the Blairs do not work for SIU, nor do they have any official standing with the school. They only arrive on campus when invited by administrative officials.

“Most people think that we work for SIU, that the dogs are owned by SIU,” Vicki said.

So far this year, they attended Watermelon Fest, new student orientations and the first home football game. The Blairs plan to attend every home game held by the Salukis this semester.

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SIU is not the only place the Blairs volunteer their time. Weber said they are active members of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Herrin.

“They’re good, down to Earth, Christian people,” he said.

They also bring their dogs to learning centers and nursing homes in Herrin.

“We do have a lot of irons in the fire,” Vicki said.

Even with the volunteerism, the Blairs still have time to care for their dogs. Charles Haire, their veterinarian, said the pair is in the “upper echelon” of pet ownership. The Blairs bring their dogs to Haire whenever there is any question about the dogs’ health.

“There’s some pet owners that never tend to their dogs, some that do mediocre care,” Haire said. “Then you’ve got people who really, I mean really, take care of their dogs.”

When the Blairs bring the dogs to tailgating events before a Saluki football game, Jim brings hot dogs for students to feed the dogs. However, when people say they would like a saluki because of their dogs’ calm demeanor, the Blairs stress that the reason their dogs are so calm, is because of rigorous training and socialization from a young age.

“As far as this being the breed for everyone … No, they’re not,” Vicki said. The American Kennel Club describes salukis as aloof and independent, as well as prone to chasing quarry, given their hunting nature.

For every home game the Blairs attend this season, Jim will run with a dog onto the field with the Saluki team. Jim said he plans to bring a cream colored saluki named Meti onto the field Saturday before the game against Southeast Missouri State University.

Jordan Duncan can be reached at [email protected]

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