By Josette Keelor
The three puppies in Stephens City breeder Sara Gomez's most recent litter of bulldogs are still small, but now older than 10 weeks, they're ready to move on to new homes.
Casey Jones, still at home with Gomez, prepares for a Friday departure to begin a new life with a family in Maryland. Sugaree has changed her name to Olive and moved to Charleston, S.C., and Chesty XIV, born Jack Straw, is studying to be a Marine.
Chesty, the latest recruit selected to be the mascot of the Marine Corps, is still in training, said Capt. John Norton, public affairs officer at the Marine Barracks in Washington. Norton said Chesty is already showing promise.
"He's adjusting well to the Marine Corps way of life," Norton said by phone Tuesday. "We're expecting a lot from him just as we do with our other Marines."
The 14th in a line of English bulldogs dating back to the 1957, all named Chesty in memory of Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller Jr., the new recruit has big paw prints to fill.
According to Norton, the Corps' mascot is "a very big portion of the public face of the Marine Corps."
Chesty will ride in Friday night parades during the summertime. He will make appearances with celebrities and U.S. officials, be part of tours of the Home of the Commandants and greet groups visiting Bonnie Amos, first lady of the Marine Corps, Norton said.
"He's a big morale booster," said Norton The outgoing mascot, Sgt. Chesty, has even been overseas to France, he said.
Chesty will be sworn in during a ceremony scheduled for March 29, and likely will start as a private, but Norton said the dog's rank, like with any other Marine, will depend upon his behavior and skill, and will be at the discretion of the commandant, Gen. John F. Amos.
"He could be meritoriously promoted to private first class," Norton said.
The puppy already has a leg up, considering he beat out brother Casey Jones for a spot among the nation's elite, Gomez said.
She explained that Maurertown breeder Becky Rohrbaugh, who bred a previous Chesty, gave the Marines Gomez's name in consideration of providing the new mascot.
The Corps contacted her and others when looking for a possible new Chesty, and she sent them pedigrees of Chesty's parents, Gomez's dog Old Dominion Dumptruck, or O.D., and her daughter Abigail Callahan's dog, Magnolia Blossom.
Because both of Chesty's parents are pedigreed, Gomez could register the puppies as a pedigree, too.
When Magnolia became pregnant, Gomez alerted Major David Wilemon. He and base Commander Col. Christian G. Cabaniss came to Stephens City after the puppies were born.
"They made a choice," she said. "I gave them pick of the litter."
Gomez said Mrs. Amos also visited and also was involved with the choice.
While serving with the Marines, the plan is for Chesty to live with Marine Drum and Bugle Corps Staff Sgt. Jason Mosser and his wife Christine, assistant family readiness officer, and remain with the couple after retiring.
Mascots serve anywhere from three to five years, Norton said. Chesty XIII has been in place for about five.
"And as you know, that's 35 dog years," he said. There's no telling how long Chesty XIV will serve.
"The main thing that we were looking for was a responsible breeder," he said. "This dog came from a responsible family in a responsible household."
English bulldogs have been Marine Corps mascot since Jiggs I, who took office in a formal ceremony on Oct. 14, 1922, according to the website, www.usmcpress.com.
Norton said the breed makes a good mascot because of its solid frame and no-nonsense demeanor.
"Anybody that knows about English bulldogs knows that they're sometimes difficult," he said. However, they're "very strong, resolute and they're always going to be there for you."
"What better mascot for the Marine Corps than an English bulldog?" he asked.
At Gomez's country home, Chesty's father O.D. and aunt Lily, grandmother Violet and great-grandmother Raven are happy for company, even if it's because of Chesty.
"They're very social dogs," Gomez said. "They thrive on attention." But, she assured, they also sleep most of the day.
"It's a chorus of snoring," she said. "Very noisy ... but they're very sweet-natured."
Originally bred for bull baiting, Gomez said, bulldogs since have had the fight bred out of them. They still sport strong jaws and love pull toys, she said, but, "They're very well-known today for being placid."
"They're wonderful around kids," she said. Her parents were breeders, too. "I grew up with them. I've had them for over 50 years."
The dogs come into heat twice a year, and Gomez begins breeding her female dogs after their second heat cycle. How many litters each dog has will depend on how the breeding takes, she said. Males can breed at nine months, and she uses a male with a proven history of breeding. With two unknowns, she said, if the pregnancy doesn't take, there's no way of knowing which dog contributed poorly.
The dogs are artificially inseminated, Gomez said, have a nine-week pregnancy and almost always deliver by C-section. A normal lifespan for a bulldog is about 10 to 12 years.
"I'm not a huge breeder," Gomez said. "I'm an in-house breeder. My litters are kind of hit and miss."
Gomez and her daughter are partners in the breeding business because of the attention the puppies require, with regular feedings every two hours, 24 hours a day for the first few weeks, Gomez said.
She said she believes the Marines chose the new Chesty in part because of his looks. He has brindle markings on his back legs that make it look like he's wearing fatigues, she said.
And maybe, she said, O.D. will get a T-shirt that says, "My son is a Marine."
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org>