Zeke the Wonderdog: More Than Just a Frisbee Catching Mascot Dog 

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Zeke the Wonderdog, known for his high-flying frisbee catches at Michigan State Football games, has left the Spartan Stadium crowd in awe and cheers with his performances during halftime and between plays at football games. It is a more than 45-year-long tradition and a staple hood of Michigan State football games in the fall. The tradition started in the 1970s when Gary Eisenberg, an MSU sophomore, competed with his yellow Labrador, Zeke, in several frisbee competitions. Zeke was just an ordinary dog at the time, but that would soon change. 

“He was just Zeke, there was no Wonderdog there, he was just my dog,” said Eisenberg. 

The two were noticed by Michigan State University when Gary and Zeke finished runner-up in the World Championship in Pasadena. After their impressive performance, they were asked to perform at an MSU home football game, and the tradition was born. 

“The response was overwhelming, the students went wild they just went bananas, they would stomp the bleachers chanting Zeke Zeke Zeke,” said Eisenberg. 

The original Zeke the Wonderdog performing at Spartan Stadium. Photo Courtesy, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections.

They immediately received recognition at MSU and even nationwide. MSU football coach Daryl Rogers awarded Zeke with a varsity letter and stated that Zeke was “the best wide receiver in the Big Ten.” 

To this day Eisenberg says people still come up to him to share their memories of seeing Zeke perform at an Elementary school that Zeke performed at. 

 “Fifteen years later, I’d be sitting in a bar somewhere and, all of a sudden, a drinker would show up in front of me and say: You are Zeke’s dad, aren’t you? You came to my school fifteen years ago and put on a show.”  

The current Zeke is a red English Labrador trained by Jim Foley and his wife Terri Foley. The Foleys have trained three of the four Zeke the Wonderdogs for 21 years. They started training when a search began to find a new Zeke after it had been an on-and-off thing since the original Zeke’s passing. Their black Labrador, named Dexter became known as Zeke II.  

Jim Foley says he and his wife’s biggest reward for training Zeke, is seeing the smiles Zeke puts on people’s faces. “My wife and I do this for the goodwill of Michigan State, ”said Foley.  

One of Jim Foley’s favorite memories of being a trainer and seeing Zeke perform was the first MSU game he performed at with Zeke. 

“The first game in 2001 against Eastern was my favorite,” said Foley. “The fan response was amazing it took my breath away.” 

Zeke the Wonderdog catching a frisbee while jumping over two MSU cheerleaders and trainer Jim Foley with Sparty watching. Photo Courtesy, Zeke the Wonderdog on Facebook. 

Not only has Zeke performed at MSU football games, he has also performed at several different sporting events across the country which have included NFL and NBA games. He has even traveled to Mount Rushmore and performed shows in South Dakota. 

Regarding the training process, Foley says it does not take him very long to train Zeke. “I taught him as a young dog the ABCs of dog training. I taught Zeke to learn, to sit, and to stay. I can train him in five days.” 

During the training process, Foley has a unique way of training Zeke to prepare him for his football performance. “I train him in the water and throw him a frisbee which helps him to perform on the football field,” said Foley. 

Mic’d Up: Zeke the Wonderdog, Video Courtesy, Michigan State University.

Zeke’s home life outside of training is unlike any other dog. “He’s got his own couch and basement where he has his own TV,” said Foley. “He steals our pillows, he thinks he owns the house.” 

Alongside his halftime tricks, Zeke has participated in several events in the East Lansing area and across MSU’s campus. One event included a recent Christmas Breakfast with 200 kids and Santa Claus at the Kellogg Center. 

Zeke with Santa Claus at the Christmas breakfast at the Kellogg Center. Photo Courtesy, Doug Kelly. 

When the children attending the event meet Zeke and take a picture with them, they are given a sticker of Zeke’s autographed paw that shows that they are best friends with Zeke. 

While children go up to Santa Claus to ask what they want for Christmas, Zeke goes around to greet children and spreads the Christmas spirit. 

Jim Foley says that events like these, especially during the Christmas season, a time that is about love and togetherness, are one of the many reasons why Zeke the Wonderdog is so special. “Zeke promotes Spartan love”, said Foley. “He brings joy and Spartan spirit.” 

Zeke sitting in Santa’s chair before Santa and guests arrive. Photo Courtesy, Caden Handwork. 

Zeke’s impact on the MSU community has been impactful and Foley knows that people can trust him. “His job is to build goodwill at Michigan State,” said Foley. “They have trust and faith in Zeke.” 

Throughout the events and halftime performances over the last few years with the current Zeke, Foley says there is no dog he’d rather have. “There’s good labs out there, but there’s no one I’d want to replace him with, Zeke brings out the best of everyone.” 

Doug Kelly has been the marketing director for Zeke the Wonderdog for the last two years and says that Zeke and his ability to love other people and help shine his light on the MSU community has been his favorite part of working as the marketing director. 

“Zeke, being Zeke, whatever we can do to promote him and bring love to Spartan nation and everyone,” said Kelly. 

Kelly also believes that Zeke has positively impacted students at Michigan State. When students are at school away from their hometown, they miss their dogs from home and Zeke can make them feel welcome. “It sends a message to us about how important Zeke is to the university,” said Kelly. 

The more than 45-year tradition has impacted a generation of Spartan fans. Gary Eisenberg says he is hopeful that Zeke the Wonderdog will impact Spartans for generations to come. “Zeke is in collegiate sports as far as animals go, he’s right up there with that top tier, so it would be nice if we can keep it going and figure out a way to make it last a long time.”  

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