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Searching for Smoki: NMSU looks for next 'Wonder Dog'

  • By Kyle Purcell
  • (575) 646-7562
  • kpurcell@nmsu.edu
  • Aug 13, 2012
Smoki the Wonderdog retrieves the kicking tee at a NMSU football game.
For six years, Aggie football fans at New Mexico State University could always count on Smoki the Wonder Dog to retrieve the kicking tee after each Aggie kickoff. Even when things were not going the Aggies way, Smoki was always there to cheer up the crowd. Now, a search begins to find a new dog to take on the job.

After almost a decade without a dog to retrieve the tee, NMSU will bring back the tradition. Tryouts will be held Aug. 18 from 8 a.m. to noon at Aggie Memorial Stadium. The lucky dog selected will be known as Smoki the Wonder Dog II.

In 2002, the original Smoki had to retire because of old age. She had lost her trademark enthusiasm and her eyesight was beginning to go, which meant she no longer could retrieve the tee as effectively. Sadly, Smoki died in April of 2005 at the age of 15.

"I knew the time was coming," said Joel Sims, Smoki's owner and trainer. "She had gone out to retrieve the tee and she just wouldn't pick it up."

Despite his best efforts, Sims, an NMSU alum who received his bachelor's in 1995 and master's in 2000, could not train another dog to take her place. One of the dogs, Lil, had a hard time coping with the loud sounds of the stadium. It was then that he realized how easy Smoki had made the trick look.

Smoki was born in Capitan, N.M., in December of 1989. During the following summer, Sims worked with her at his parent's farm in Hatch and found that she responded well to training and was a well-mannered dog.

Sims, a former stunt man who performed in a couple of movies, including "Buffalo Girls" and "The Lazarus Man," was even able to get Smoki into a movie. She made her Hollywood debut when she played the town dog in "Wyatt Earp" starring Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid.

One of Smoki's more interesting abilities was being able to open the refrigerator, pick up a can of beer, close the refrigerator and bring it to someone. She would then wait for the can to be empty then take it to the recycle bin. This became a very popular trick with Sims' friends.

Sims originally got the idea of retrieving the tee when he saw a dog do it for the Houston Oilers. Sims had already taught the part border collie and part Australian shepherd lots of tricks so he figured she could do that too. He then had a football player he knew from a weight lifting class introduce him to one of the football coaches. The rest is history.

It was always clear to Sims that Smoki enjoyed retrieving the tee. He said that when they would drive up to the stadium she would get excited. He usually had to hold her back right before she would sprint on to the field and pick up the tee. NMSU hopes that their search will produce another dog that is just as enthusiastic as Smoki.

"Everyone loved Smoki the Wonder Dog and enjoyed seeing her run onto the field to retrieve the tee during Aggie Football games," said Debbie Widger, associate vice president for development at the NMSU Foundation. "We can't wait to renew this fantastic tradition at New Mexico State University. It will ensure the legend of Smoki will live on while a new generation of students, alumni and Aggie fans get to see the next Smoki the Wonder Dog in action."

Smoki was a valued member of the Aggie community. She earned the status as an honorary official of the Sun Belt Conference after public outcry when a referee wouldn't allow her to perform on the field because of a conference rule about live animals. Smoki was even rewarded with a five-year service award in 2001.

Sims said he is interested to see the new Smoki in action.

"It may take a few practice retrievals, but I think the fans will embrace the new dog just as much as Smoki," said Sims. "It's an honor for the university to continue Smoki's legacy."

Although he does not have any dogs right now, Sims plans to get a dog sometime later in life. He wants to teach it to do tricks, just as he did with Smoki. Sims said he hopes can train up another dog to retrieve the kicking tee and continue the legacy of Smoki the Wonder Dog.