EAST LANSING, Mich. — Twenty years ago, Jim and Terri Foley were just average dog trainers.
“Originally we were running around competing around the states, the Midwest, with the Michigan Disc Dog Club,” Jim said.
That's until Michigan State University held tryouts for an unofficial dog mascot, and their dog Dexter was chosen to be Zeke the Wonder Dog the second.
“We rescued him from the Harbor Lights Humane Society and they told us he liked playing with the Frisbee, but he dug a Frisbee out at a park and brought it to us and we started working with him to run and jump and catch the Frisbee," Terri said.
Rewind 25 years before that to the first Zeke.
“I was a student here when the original Zeke performed and I was a grad student and I always had so much fun going to the football games with my fellow grad students," Terri said. "We would never leave at halftime we would always watch the original Zeke perform."
Terri never thought she'd have the next wonder dog.
“If somebody would’ve told me then I was going to own the next Zeke the Wonder Dog, I would’ve told them they were crazy,” Terri said.
Until those tryouts and a four-and-a-half minute performance that would change their lives forever.
“I’m walking along the side of the stadium, tears were running down my face," Terri said. "It just was really an incredible experience.”
“Steve Cherry with Michigan basketball team was working with the athletic department had to come out when I came off the field, slap me on the back and say ‘breathe’ because it took my breath away,” Jim said.
After Zeke II, came Zeke III.
“Zeke III, oh my lord, I got more out of Zeke III then he should’ve ever been able to put out," Jim said. "He was a bigger dog and he gave it his heart he would never quit, there was no quitting that dog.”
And now, Zeke IV.
“Zeke IV has such a cute face, everybody loves to get pictures with him,” Terri said.
Not only was this year special because it was the beginning of their 20th year, but also because they had to take some time off due to the pandemic.
“My God, there was Coach Izzo and the whole basketball team welcoming us back from the pandemic," Jim said. "It was awesome, I mean that was awesome, it was like a new beginning.”
Over the years, the Foleys and Zeke have made a lot of memories.
“Every time we go out is a new experience, a new show," Jim said.
A lot of friends.
“It’s like some people recognize him and ‘Oh my gosh, there’s Zeke the Wonder Dog’ and I’m like, I think it’s kind of like what it was for the Beatles,” Terri said.
And they've learned a few lessons along the way.
“I had him whistle trained," Jim said. "The band director from Notre Dame blew a long whistle which was what my command was for Zeke coming out on the field. He thought Terri was there and he left me on the field and sat right next to the band director for Notre Dame.”
They never thought they would keep the tradition alive for 20 years.
“I didn’t think we’d be here a year later," Jim said. "I honestly can’t believe it’s still going on and I’m so proud of it."
But they plan to keep spreading school spirit.
“I want love," Jim said. "I want good feelings. I want you to be excited. Even when Zeke misses a Frisbee, it’s still exciting to watch him do it because he’s still going so hard to try and get it.”
One trick at a time.
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