CPT Debuts Football’s First Retrieving Mascots

The Georgia Force, Atlanta’s home team in the Arena Football League, and Comprehensive Pet Therapy (CPT), Atlanta’s most respected pet training company, have partnered to create “Black” and “Blue.” Black and Blue are the Georgia Force’s official canine mascots. However, true to CPT’s name, Black and Blue’s function is far more comprehensive than the traditional canine football mascot. Black and Blue are professional football’s first non-humans trained to retrieve the kicking tee after each kickoff. In addition, Black and Blue may occasionally perform during intermission activities and greet fans during promotional events.

The Force and CPT debuted Black and Blue on NBC during their nationally televised home opener Sunday, February 16, 2003. The unique tee retrievers were released from the end zone corner to gallop toward the tees, quickly grasp the rubber object in their mouth, and promptly return to their handler. Georgia Force kicker Steve McLaughlin is pleased that he no longer has to saunter back to the end zone to pick up the tee. Moreover, the 11,200 fans in attendance at the spanking new Arena at Gwinnett Center were highly entertained by the efforts of these working mascots. Noticeable applause commenced each time Black or Blue entered the field.

The concept for Black and Blue was created by former Georgia Force COO Mike Storen, who had his personal pet trained by CPT. Mike was familiar with CPT’s higher level work and thought that CPT would be a great match for constructing the Black and Blue program. CPT and the Force first met in early October 2002 to design the program parameters.

CPT then began selecting and training the dogs most appropriate for the roles of Black and Blue. On November 2, 2002 CPT held tryouts open to any dog from within its 21,000 dog customer base. Four judges evaluated the candidates from amongst the following criteria: obedience, retrieve drive, tolerance of noise and crowds, sociability, athleticism, adaptability, endurance, and appearance. Similarly, the owners were evaluated for their attitude, appearance, and charisma. Upon completion of the tryouts, CPT selected six dogs/handlers as members of the Black and Blue Team.

Formal practices began shortly thereafter and have continued weekly for the past three and a half months. CPT provides complimentary training and coaching for the selected dogs and owners who will perform at each of the Force’s eight home regular season games and any home playoff games. Each game CPT coaches Mark Spivak and Patricia McDonnell select two dogs from amongst the team to represent The Force as “Black” and “Blue.” The pressure was on for the first game since the dogs never had the opportunity to practice in game-like conditions containing a sold out arena with 11,200 boisterous fans, pyrotechnics, loud rock music, and two full teams of AFL players. Nevertheless, the dogs performed near flawlessly in front of a network television audience as well as the fans in attendance.

The first game’s “Black” was a three year old, female German Shepherd, known during the week as Piper, owned by CPT client Jessa Fagan. Jessa, a speech pathologist and clinical supervisor at Scottish-Rite Hospital, was enamored with “the challenge of training her dog to perform amidst a sold out arena.” Jessa believes “the Black and Blue experience is wonderful fun for both me and Piper as well as improves her overall training.”

“Blue” was Dallas, a four year old, male Chocolate Labrador owned by Deanne Barker. Deanne, Director of Human Resources for Atlanta-based Racetrac Petroleum, has also enjoyed her tenure as part of Black and Blue. “Mark has done an awesome job organizing the team and constructing the training plan. Still, I owe a special note of appreciation to Patricia who kept Dallas at her home for 2 weeks to fix some training problems. The CPT staff is highly dedicated. They have worked with Dallas since he was a young puppy and they are an important reason why he has become the best pet I have ever had.”

Mark Spivak, CPT’s President and Team Head Coach, appreciates “the confidence The Force has placed in CPT.” “CPT is always looking for new and challenging projects. I am a business owner, sports enthusiast, and a dog training professional, so when The Force asked if CPT would like to participate I replied with an unequivocal ‘yes.’ Training exceptional dogs to perform flawlessly amongst the hoopla of excited fans and a television audience is a pet trainer’s dream.”

Since its inception in 1992, CPT has trained the dogs of over 21,000 Atlanta area customers. CPT offers group classes at six locations, in-home private lessons throughout the Atlanta metro area, and a unique board training program at 10 locations where customer dogs reside at a trainer’s home as opposed to a kennel. CPT Head Trainers have competed on world teams, placed in national competitions, won regional titles, placed dogs in movies, and appeared as behavioral experts on television news shows.

For more information, please contact Mark Spivak by phone (770-396-6433).

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