MADISON, Wis. - He's the furry, four-footed bat retriever for the Madison Mallards, and he's already halfway into his sophomore season.
Colt the bat dog debuted in Madison last year, bolting out after at-bats to pick up the bat and bring it back to the dugout, greeting ballpark-goers and performing the occasional Frisbee or begging-paws trick.
Kate Bucci, of Oconomowoc, has been around the dog-training and show industry her whole life. She said her mother used to breed and show dogs, and Bucci has been training dogs for more than a decade. Colt, a 4-year-old brown-and-white, prick-ear smooth-coat border collie, arrived in the world a single puppy -- no littermates -- which is rare. What is more rare, his trainer and best friend Bucci said, is his drive.
"Colt came out of the gate ready to go," Bucci said. "A very, very confident dog. He just was very confident out the gate. He’s very outgoing, very easy to teach. He was kind of a cake walk."
Bat-dogging is a side hustle for Colt and Bucci, but they're not paid, they're volunteers. He even brings his own swag. Bucci says Colt's bat dog shirt is custom-made. Bucci said Colt loves the fast-paced environment of grabbing the bat and the roar of the crowd.
"Colt loves doing what he does: getting the bat. He loves being part of the team," Bucci said. "My favorite part is when people see him for the first time, that 'oh-my-gosh' factor. And he loves it too. The more people cheer, the faster he goes to get the bat, the faster he comes back in."
Becoming the bat dog
Colt's journey to the Mallards' dugout started two years ago, when he and Bucci were taking part in the Bark in the Park event at the Duck Pond. Bucci and Colt were with a vendor at that event, which invites owners to bring their canine pals to join them for a night of baseball. Colt demonstrated he could do it once, and later, Bucci and Colt agreed to return for the 2018 season for a handful of games to become the Mallards' first four-legged bat retriever.
"It just adds an element of fun, especially for kids," Bucci said. "And I hope that it inspires people to work with their dogs and be true to what their dogs really want to do. These guys love it, they’re working dogs and this is a job for them."
Keeping Colt busy
Outside of his Mallards gig, Colt is a busy boy. He was a mascot for PuppyUp Madison, which promotes awareness of canine cancer and raises money for cancer research helping pets and people, according to the organization.
Colt competes in Frisbee tournaments, enjoys dock diving and is the main demonstration dog for Bucci's training business. Bucci and Colt also participated in their second canine biathalon out-of-state this year, and he’s training now for a new canine sport called Mondioring, which tests obedience, agility and protection, according to the association’s website.
Colt is certified as a service dog and later this year, he’ll be taking a narcotics detection seminar that could lead to work searching schools for drugs, Bucci said.
"It's another thing for him to learn, to work on, keeps his brain busy," she said. "Keeping him tired is a full-time job."
Bat puppy Kovu is still in training, but he’s picking up the trade each game.
"Kovu is a little bit more of a lover boy. He's softer. He likes to be around people," Bucci said. "He still likes to do his job, but if he had a choice, he’d be crawling in the players laps in a heartbeat. So teaching him to wait out his desire for affection to go get the bat has been a little bit harder, but it's starting to come up quite a bit. He really is starting to want to get the bat, start to do the work. Even though they're 100-percent related, they're very different dogs."
For Colt's second year as the Mallards' bat dog, he’s scheduled to be at the ballpark for about 20 games in the season, and there are still several opportunities to see the bat brothers in action. The next chance to see them is Saturday, when the Mallards play the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks at 6:05 p.m. (There will also be postgame fireworks at that game, according to the Mallards website.)
Colt, Kovu and Bucci are also scheduled to be at Bark in the Park again this year on July 24. Canine attendees don't need a ticket for entry unless owners want them to have their own seat, according to the Mallards website.
Bucci said for the future, as long as the Mallards will have them, she, Colt and Kovu plan to continue retrieving bats and performing tricks between innings at the Duck Pond.
"They are my best friends," Bucci said. "All three of us together have a very incredible bond."
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