PULLMAN, WA - Butch T. Cougar was once a vision of both ferociousness and friendliness. While personifying the look of the beautiful mountain lion he represents, Mr. Cougar was also a perfect mascot for Washington State University's younger fans.
Every summer, once his duties with the university's athletic department and other events are over, Mr. Cougar customarily took time off for a return to his natural habitat in Washington's beautiful Cascade mountain range. In the past, the school had tagged Mr. Cougar to ensure his return in time for Pullman's Lentil Festival parade but after years of an early return in peak physical condition, the school stopped tagging him in the mid-1980s.
This year seemed like any other. Mr. Cougar left the university in the middle of July for his yearly trip back to the Cascades. But the school worried when he took extra time to return. Just one day before his scheduled appearance in the parade, Mr. Cougar returned but he clearly hadn't gone home. When he came back, his cheeks were much puffier, eyes recessed back and it looked as if he'd gained weight.
What had happened to Mr. Cougar wasn't immediately clear. Although there were many theories early on, one emerged as the likely scenario: Mr. Cougar had travelled to southern California for a controversial surgery known as Cartoon Reconstructive and Alteration Procedure. Little is known about CRAP or who performs it. The controversy surrounding it is surpassed only by the mystery about the intricacies of CRAP and who would dare perform a procedure that could so dangerously alter a mascot's appearance.
The reasons why a mascot would go through such a procedure are many and Washington State University believes they know why.
"The guy is old," said director of athletics Bill Moos. "I know old. I talk about Mel Hein all the time and Butch is way older then Mel."
Mr. Moos believes Mr. Cougar was scared of showing his age and decided to get CRAP to ward off any signs of aging. Washington State's athletic department doesn't have paper work on file regarding Mr. Cougar's birth date or if he has any relatives. The school doesn't even know how Mr. Cougar even came to work for Washington State.
"Near as I can tell he showed up one day, was super enthusiastic about the sports teams and the university saw fit to make him the mascot," said Mr. Moos. "Look, the mascot before him was a terrier. Do you know how intimidating a terrier is? It isn't. Most of those things just bark at the mailman and poop on the rug"
With no official paper work to document Mr. Cougar's age, university estimates range from about 90 to 120 years. No matter Mr. Cougar's actual age though, university officials were pleased with his appearance after a century of representing the university's athletic teams.
"Ask anyone here: they loved Butch," said Mr. Moos. "He looked great. We used to all ask him for his secret when it came to working out. I mean, it was a little problematic since he can't talk but we were able to communicate."
No one at the university knows why Mr. Cougar would undergo an operation as dangerous as CRAP. In fact, no one at the university had even heard of it before he showed up for the Lentil Festival parade. Although the world of CRAP is unknown and the identities of those that perform CRAP is closely guarded, allegedly by the Church of Scientology, some do have insights.
"It's a controversial procedure because it's often not the choice of the character," a highly placed source within Warner Bros. cartoon development department said. "These studios, they force the character to go through CRAP when there is nothing wrong with the way they look. It's Hollywood man. Nobody cares about substance. I mean, have you seen how vapid Kim Kardashian is?"
Famous Warner Bros. characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety and others have undergone changes throughout the years. These changes, according to our source, are done in the name of modernization.
"High definition television, digital content, everything looks so much better now of days," the source said. "These guys can't have any blemishes like the old days. It's not just cartoons and mascots though. Do you remember when Meg Ryan was attractive?"
The procedure isn't safe either. Numerous papers published in animated medical journals on the topic document horrifying tales of bad erase jobs and use of the wrong color palate on the operating table. CRAP is even more dangerous for mascots though as surgeons often don't care if replacement parts are out of warranty or don't even come from the same character.
"These studios, they perform CRAP indiscriminately," our source said. "It's done off the books, off company time and no one can catch them."
We asked our source if Warner Bros. performs CRAP on mascots and animated characters and they declined any further comment. Representatives at Dreamworks Animation, Universal Studios, and Sony turned down multiple requests for interviews but Dreamworks' executive vice president of motion picture animation Carlos Danger faxed us this statement.
"It is the policy of Dreamworks Animation Studios and our subsidiaries to never force a mascot or animated character to undergo CRAP. We at Dreamworks detest the practice of such a dangerous and untested procedure. Any CRAP procedure performed on an animated character or mascot is done solely at their discretion and by unlicensed doctors at their local medical centers."
"That's a load of horse pucky," said director of animated surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Dr. John O'Neal. "Ordinarily these studios will send the characters over for minor touch up procedures. Day surgery, really. But they're forking over millions of dollars a year for these procedures. And they don't care if we have the right parts to fix them. They just want it done."
Asked why a hospital would perform such a dangerous procedure, Dr. O'Neal was frank.
"Look, this is Hollywood money man," O'Neil said. "And if we can get hooked up with studio producers we can get our own show like Dr. Oz.
"Besides, like I said: it's the studios that pay for these procedures. The characters and mascots never want it done themselves."
"If you think I paid for something like that, you're an idiot," said the president of Washington State Dr. Elson S. Floyd. "Hell, I agonized for months over whether to shave my mustache off or not and I think we all know that was the wrong decision."
Dr. Floyd told us, in his opinion, Mr. Cougar looked fine and if CRAP was performed on him, it was his decision and paid for with his personal cash.
We attempted to contact Mr. Cougar for this story but multiple emails and phone calls went unreturned. Whether Mr. Coguar can ever go back to his previous, more appealing and non-offensive look is in question though.
"It was unsafe the first time, I don't want him to go through it again," said Mr. Moos. "I think we're just going to have to put with the fact that he's stuck that way and every other fan base in the country is going to laugh at how ugly he is now. Seriously, it looks like he went to Kenny Rogers' guy. You see what happened to him after surgery? Oof."
Whether Mr. Cougar remains with Washington State in the same capacity as before his surgery is yet to be seen. But one thing is known for sure: the procedure he likely went through to make him look better has back fired severely. A once vibrant, cool and exciting mascot is a shell of himself best suited to be a dog's chew toy rather than a mascot even adults can't resist.
Note: following our interview with Dr. O'Neal, his wife reported him missing after he didn't return to their Rancho Palos Verdes home following a benefit gala. Authorities are continuing to search for Dr. O'Neal and consider his disappearance suspicious. Or he went to Mexico to be with his mistress. Who the hell knows. Besides, he was kind of a douche on the phone.