July 08, 2004

Tut, SIUC's mascot, succumbs to illness

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Whether he was participating in parades, social gatherings or athletic events at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, TUT II SIU, or simply, Tut, was a model of grace and dignity.

Tut was the last of five Salukis the Saunders cared for and supplied to the University since 1986. The other Salukis were Shabaka, Taharqa, Farrah and Tasha. The couple also cared for Thunder and Khalid, the last two University-owned dogs.Tut, the long-time official SIUC mascot, was humanely put to sleep on Saturday, June 26, 2004. Owners and SIUC alums John G. and Linda Saunders of Chester learned in April that the 13 year old suffered from hemangiosarcoma, a malignant cancer of the blood vessels.

"Tut was our last," John Saunders said. "That is one of the reasons it was so hard to lose him."

The University is exploring its options for another Saluki.

John Saunders recalls parades where Tut would go side-to-side along the street as adoring children and fans affectionately greeted him. By the end of the parade route, that might mean Tut's ears were a mess from hands made sticky by popcorn and candy, but Tut didn't mind, he said.

And a trip to Carbondale for football games meant stopping by the SIUC Booster Club tent in the parking lot for two hot dogs -- a rare treat.

For alumni and fans, a treat was seeing Tut gracefully run across McAndrew Stadium leading the football Salukis onto the field. Tut regularly appeared at athletic events, alumni functions, fund-raisers and Southern Illinois Special Olympics.

Tut was known not only throughout the region, but statewide and nationally. Tut's image graced the first Saluki fan given away at the SIUC tent at the Illinois and Du Quoin state fairs in 2001. He was 2001 Homecoming parade marshal, honoring 50 years of the Saluki as the University's mascot. A CBS documentary filmed during the SIUC men's basketball team run to the Sweet 16 featured Tut, and he appeared on ESPN several times. Tut also appeared on countless calendars, posters and athletic media guides.

Away from SIUC, Tut was an accomplished show dog. He finished his American Kennel Club Confirmation championship quickly. He capped his show career by winning the Saluki Club of America National Specialty in the senior division in Lexington, Ky., in June 2003.

"Certainly his show career was a big plus for us," Saunders said. "He was considered one of the better dogs around. He was very, very good."

Saunders graduated from SIUC in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in recreation; Linda Saunders graduated from SIUC in 1965 in education. Four generations of Saunders' family, including his grandmother, mother and son, also graduated from SIUC.

Now both retired, the couple is planning to spend time traveling.

"It has been a labor of love for us. We will miss it," he said.