From King Tut to the Blair family: The history behind the Saluki mascots

By Jacob Lorenz, Staff Reporter

If you have ever been to a major sporting event at SIU or a student-oriented event, there is a chance you got to pet real salukis.

This tradition started shortly after SIU changed their name from the Maroons to the Salukis in 1951. SIU purchased an 8-month-old Saluki pup named King Tut from Mr. and Mrs. Travaro from Farmer City. 

In 1951, the student body held a vote to change their name from the Maroons. The ballot options were Egyptian Warriors, Colonels and Flyers. The day after ballot voting, however, a disgruntled person stole the votes from an administration office before they were counted. 

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The student body held another vote later that semester. The name ‘Saluki’ wasn’t even on the ballot of new names until the future mascot visited the campus one day in 1951. 

In King Tut’s short reign as the mascot, he became an instant icon and ever since his untimely death in 1954, SIU has made it a tradition to bring actual Salukis to big events. 

Vicki Blair and her husband, Jim, have been residents of Herrin for over 30 years, and since 2006 they have become the reason for real saluki appearances at SIU events.  

Ever since the first Saluki, King Tut, there have been several owners who brought their salukis to big SIU events, but now nearly all the events are attended by the Blair family. 

Vicki and/or Jim can typically be seen greeting people with two or three of their dogs at events in the Student Center or on the sidelines of basketball and football games. 

Vicki is semi-retired. She is the lead docent at the John A. Logan Historical Village, serves on the Herrin historical board and attends events with the 11 salukis her family owns. 

“We’ve been here 30 plus years and my kids, my son was born here, my daughter, we moved here when she was in third grade,” Blair said. “I’ve gotten to know the area a lot.” 

Vicki said when she and Jim originally moved here from Michigan, she had no idea about SIU. 

“I’ve always had a passion for animals, anyway, but it goes back to when I was in grade school,” Vicki said. “We were studying geography or history about the Middle East, and there was just this very short, one sentence about the saluki hunting dogs out in the desert.” 

From there, her interest was piqued. 

“I always tried to find what I could about them, which wasn’t much, and you know, as the years pass, things change but I never lost my interest in [salukis],” Vicki said. 

Vicki said she found out about SIU’s mascot when she took her daughter shopping in Carbondale. 

“I thought it was just kind of amazing, it was like it was meant to be,” said Blair. 

She had developed a contact with a breeder in Florida and got two saluki pups, a male and a female. 

Now the Blair family has 11 salukis, and have raised two litters since their first pups.

Vicki said they have six females and five males, and of course, she can name them all by heart. 

The names are all have roots to Egyptian culture just like the breed itself. Their six females are Kia, Tiy, Isis, Cleo, Tari and Jasmine, and the males are Seti, Meti, Ari, Jafar and Pharaoh II. 

Vicki said there is no particular order in which she brings her Salukis to events, since all are specially trained for being in public. 

“We start socializing and training them from when we have them as pups,” Vicki said. “You’re always training them. You never are not training.” 

Salukis by nature are aloof dogs and appear stoic compared to other breeds. They bark, but not at other dogs. They let you pet them if they come to you. 

Vicki said from observing her dogs that salukis will acknowledge other salukis, and tolerate other breeds. 

Even though this may seem like deviant behavior, Vicki said her dogs are nice towards others. 

Vicki said its different training a saluki compared to other dogs. Due to their high intelligence, salukis can get bored easily. 

“With a saluki, you can work on a sit or stay, or something, six or eight times and then they’re like ‘I’m done with this.’ And they don’t want to do it anymore, they simply don’t,” Vicki said. 

They are the best dogs at ignoring people, according to Blair, so the family is always finding new approaches to training. 

Since salukis are larger hounds with the physique of an athlete, the Blairs make sure their dogs run every day, rain or shine. 

“We make sure they exercise everyday, even if the weather is bad,” Vicki said, “I don’t think anybody has gone through more rain gear than my husband and I.” 

Vicki and Jim are very diligent about the wellbeing of her salukis. They make sure when they are puppies they don’t run too hard before their muscles are developed as early life muscle problems can affect them later in life.

The exercise the dogs get isn’t just running around in the backyard, but from actual walks with Vicki and her husband. This goes for all 11 salukis. 

Vicki said she is surprised when people ask her to name all of her salukis on the spot. 

“They’re like your children!” Vicki said. “Of course you remember their names.”

 Staff reporter Jacob Lorenz can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jtlorenz6.

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