Owners Kevin, LW’11, and Erin Bell use mascot’s fame to create better lives for neglected and abused bulldogs
At Drake basketball games, there’s a sight that’s come to be just as anticipated as the trademark blue filling the stands: Porterhouse, the University’s live mascot, gleefully leading the Bulldogs onto the court. With an intense focus that belies his friendly, laidback nature, Porterhouse scrambles to capture a rolling basketball, finally halting it with a triumphant paw.
Porterhouse, an English bulldog who is also a certified therapy dog, became Drake’s first live mascot in 2010. When his yearlong reign as Drake’s Beautiful Bulldog ended, the campus wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the pooch with the winning personality. Porterhouse traded his Beautiful Bulldog robe and crown for custom-made mascot uniforms, and continues to be a featured guest at Drake events ranging from athletic competitions to scholarship programs.
“We’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people through Porterhouse,” says Kevin Bell, LW’11, who, together with his wife, Erin, owns the famous bully. “It has exposed us to the Drake community and even the Des Moines community.”
Using Fame for Good
The Bells have found that Porterhouse’s fame is also a great platform for bringing awareness, volunteers and funds to a cause that’s near and dear to their hearts — rescuing neglected, abused and abandoned bulldogs through Illinois English Bulldog Rescue (IEBR).
The Bells learned of IEBR last year, after having adopted 6-year-old Porterhouse and a 2-year-old white bully, Magoo, from responsible breeders. Erin, a public health nurse for Polk County, had a friend that passed along an emailed plea from the organization.
“They desperately needed someone to pick up a blind bulldog in an Ottumwa shelter,” says Erin. “Her name was Sophie — she was terrified and not handling the stress of the shelter well at all. I talked to Kevin and talked him into fostering her. It was tough, because he was right in the middle of law school, but he agreed.”
“I will admit that I was hesitant at first,” says Kevin. “I honestly didn’t know for sure what we were getting ourselves into, and I didn’t know if Erin and I could possibly let Sophie go after having her in our family for a short time.”
But Kevin agreed to give fostering a try, and the Bells were able to provide Sophie with the shelter, food, love and socialization she needed to be placed in her home with a family in North Carolina. Erin was the chief caretaker while Kevin finished his last semester of law school. But both were hooked. The Bells have had no fewer than two foster dogs in their home ever since, providing the care — both physical and emotional — that the bulldogs need to be placed with loving homes.
“We are with these dogs through what is often the most difficult, sickest, scariest, most vulnerable time in their lives, so we quickly become very attached and bonded to them,” says Kevin. “But we haven’t turned back since.”
New life after puppy mills, abuse
The Bells have found foster parenting dogs coming from desperate situations to be deeply rewarding, but also heartbreaking at times.
“Two of the dogs we’ve fostered have been from puppy mills — used their whole lives to produce puppies — and another we suspect was,” recalls Erin. “These breeding dogs often have caesarean sections, which puppy mill staff will do themselves using fishing line for stitches.”
The botched caesareans make subsequent spay surgery a riskier proposition. It’s a reality the Bells saw firsthand when they lost one of their foster dogs, a malnourished breeding mother, following her spay. “It was absolutely devastating,” says Erin.
Candie, another puppy mill rescue, came through a difficult life to claim her happy ending. “She’s now with us for good — we adopted her — and she is queen of our couch and is dearly loved,” says Erin.
The Bells’ stories vary; all are touching. They’ve seen the aftermath of severe abuse, and have stepped in to save a dog living on borrowed time.
“Drake had been scheduled to be put to sleep the day prior, but a lady at the animal control facility had begged for one more day while she looked for a rescue to take him in,” says Erin of a recent foster. “Fortunately, this lady found IEBR.”
He had a very severe case of mites and multiple infections when he arrived at the Bells’. But Drake is now healthy, with a full coat of brown hair and, as of February, a brand new home — appropriately, with a third-year Drake Law student.
Porterhouse, Magoo, and now Candie also play an important role in getting incoming foster bulldogs acclimated, and teaching them how to relax, play and love.
”Magoo, especially, is motherly, and teaches them how to play and cuddles them. He’s gentle and slow, welcoming them into the fold,” says Erin. “These dogs are scared, coming from bad situations. And our house is super small, with no room to separate the dogs. So they have to get along, and they do amazing.”
For his part, Porterhouse has lent his fame to IEBR by blogging — with some help from Erin.
“Yes, Porterhouse has been blogging for the rescue,” says Erin with a laugh. “There are so many needs to be filled — for foster families, people to transport dogs to foster homes or their new families, funds for vet care, items for online auctions, and also just spreading awareness and reminding dog owners to ‘adopt, don’t shop’.”
In addition to helping address the aftermath of irresponsible breeders, the Bells also work hard to halt the cycle as volunteers for Iowa Voters for Companion Animals. This grass-roots organization works to change puppy mill legislation and improve Iowa’s animal welfare laws.
“We can have all of the puppy mill rescues in the world, but we really need to improve our laws so this doesn’t keep happening,” says Erin.
Recently, Kevin accepted a position close to home in the Polk County Prosecutor’s Office, after previously spending his weekdays in western Iowa working as an assistant prosecutor. The shift will allow the Bells more time for their passions: involving Porterhouse in the life of Drake, and rescuing bulldogs.
“We are at a place in our lives right now that we can do this, so we will until we are no longer able,” says Kevin. “Our hearts are in it 100 percent.”
Visit www.drake.edu/magazine to read about Porterhouse and the Bells in Drake Blue, and also watch behind-the-scenes video of the magazine photo shoot.
You can catch more four-footed cuteness April 23 at the 2012 Beautiful Bulldog Contest. For details on this and other exciting events surrounding Drake Relays, visit http://alumni.drake.edu/relays