Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4.19.2014
Primary Language: English
“I always feel obligated to pet Tirebiter when I walk by. Depending on my mood, I’ll even go a bit out of my way to do it.”
Members of the Trojan Knights at USC (a fraternity dedicated to the spirit of USC and its history) are required to pet the statue of Tirebiter, a dog, whenever they walk by it. The statue is located near the edge of campus, but nonetheless is passed enough for this to be a somewhat regular occurrence. The tradition began because of an actual dog by the name of Tirebiter. The unconfirmed origin story is that a Trojan Knight, about 70 years ago, was on a Los Angeles beach and came across a stray dog. He took it under his care and brought it back to the fraternity’s house. It was taken care of by the group and brought to football games. It eventually became the unofficial mascot of the fraternity, and subsequently for USC given the fraternity’s close association to the school. Because Tirebiter – and his many replacements – have since passed, it’s the responsibility of the Knights to “take care of Tirebiter” by petting the statue. It serves as both a memorial for the original Tirebiter and an homage to part of the fraternity’s history.
The informant shared the tradition and says it’s something almost exclusively done by the Knights. It’s not bad luck to not do it, or good luck to do it — it’s simply a part of their history and a courtesy paid to the memorial of Tirebiter. How the action of petting Tirebiter emerged is unclear, but the reason behind it is passed down between the brothers.
It’s sort of nice to see a school tradition that doesn’t have to do with winning at sports, insulting another school, or going crazy in the name of graduating. Paying homage to a dog the fraternity once took care of is nice. Something funny mentioned by the informant is that bringing a dog to a football game is a standard long gone. The most interesting part of this piece of folklore is that the school adopted a third mascot out of it, and made a rather nice statue out of it. There’s already Tommy Trojan and Traveler — adding a dog seems a bit overkill.