Mission the mascot: The face of every Huskie heart

Mission, NIU’s live mascot, will retire Saturday during the football game against Wyoming. Mission’s replacement “Mini Mish” will assume the mascots duties following Mission’s retirement.

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB — He’s the university mascot who is often the center of attention in crowded places and makes everyone smile; he’s a pedigree champion who is extremely polite and well-tempered — a true gentleman.

Born Dec. 11, 2012, Mission was given his name based on his bold features, a befitting look that best represents NIU Huskies. But his handsome looks weren’t the only reason Mission was selected to represent the university.

“As the mascot, you want a dog that is very stable with people, enjoys the job, is very trainable. He loves children of all ages; he’s good with other dogs … you just want the whole package,” said Mission’s co-owner Lisa Monge.

In addition to knowing the standard tricks like high-five and sit, Mission knows plenty of other tricks such as squirrel, hang ten, bow, pop, spin, and he’s even working on his salute.

Mission even understands colors and the meaning of “school.”

“I have to be careful,” Monge said. “I can’t wear a lot of red and black in the house because he knows. He thinks it’s time for school.”

But when he’s not out wooing crowds, Monge said he’s just your typical dog who enjoys his stuffed NIU football and swimming in co-owner and NIU alumna Karen Street’s pond.

Monge, who also co-owns Shiver Siberian in Marengo with Street, said Street contacted the Alumni Assoication when she found out the university was looking for a new mascot.

When Monge was asked about her favorite memory of Mission, she inhaled deeply and took some time to think. After a moment’s pause, she described the first time Mission met Victor E. Huskie, the school’s suited mascot.

“Mission just kind of gave him this real serious look,” Monge said. “It literally was adorable. [They] touched noses like real dogs.”

A second memory that stood out to Monge was their 2014 trip to the Boca Raton Bowl when the opposing team’s fans requested photos with Mission.

“I was like, ‘But you’re on their side!’ and they were like ‘I don’t care! I want a picture with the huskie!’” Monge said.

Though well-mannered at campus events, Mission’s visits haven’t always been high-fives and kisses. Monge said there have been obedience challenges that Mission needed to overcome.

“His first two years with the geese were very challenging,” Monge said. “But now he’s a big man; he’s grown up quite a bit. Now he will ignore them.”

Monge said Mission struggled with the squirrels even more.

Mission’s work goes beyond NIU, making appearances at weddings, birthday parties and golf events with his handlers.

The handlers are part of Mission Support, an extracurricular activity for ROTC, and are those who “represent the program well,” said Master Sgt. Dwayne Beckles, senior military instructor.

Monge said she gives feedback on which students work best with Mission, but ROTC makes the ultimate decision regarding who handles him during events.

Beckles said allowing cadets to work with Mission allows them to engage more with the community and spread awareness about ROTC, and it also helps them develop interpersonal skills.

“Many of the underclassmen are not very talkative, or they’re shy,” Beckles said. “But when they get talking about Mission, it becomes natural because they’re [excited] to be with him.”

Students like sophomore computer science major Austin Bernhard enjoy Mission’s “mean” appearance.

“He shows how fierce and awesome the Huskies are,” Bernhard said.

Meanwhile, other students have to control themselves when they see him.

“It took every ounce of me to not pet that dog,” said sophomore political major Kyle Ralev.

Whether he’s out representing the university at a private event or making rounds at school events, Mission is the top dog everyone wants to be around.

“He kind of has a paw in everything,” Monge said.