On most days, Navi is a regular, fun-loving dog who likes hanging out and playing with his owners and trainers, Chris and Breanne Altherr.
But then, on some nights, the 2-year-old Belgian Malinois becomes something completely different. On nights when the Kokomo Jackrabbits play inside their home stadium, Navi isn‚Äôt just Navi anymore.
He‚Äôs the Bat Dog.
Since the beginning of the season, Navi has arrived at every Jackrabbits home game donning his signature red vest emblazoned with the name of his company sponsor, Sit Means Sit. Sometimes he‚Äôs sporting stylish glasses with color-tinted lenses that look like skiing googles.
And for three innings, the young canine steals the show doing tricks like jumping off walls, catching Frisbees, running the bases, sitting on his back paws and doing what has become his signature, namesake move ‚Äď retrieving bats after the players toss them.
In just the four weeks since the season started, all those tricks have made Navi a Jackrabbits all-star. In fact, he already has nearly 500 followers on his Facebook page.
One of those fans is Jenee Harlow, a member of the team‚Äôs Get Outrageous Crew, which works to get fans pumped up during games. She said she‚Äôs gotten to know Navi since the season started, and now, she loves him.
‚ÄúObviously, we‚Äôre best friends,‚ÄĚ Harlow said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs the greatest.‚ÄĚ
And that‚Äôs the feeling everyone inside Kokomo Municipal Stadium shares when Navi takes the field, she said.
‚ÄúThe crowd cheers for him more than they do for the Jackrabbits sometimes,‚ÄĚ she said with a laugh. ‚ÄúSome of the players are probably jealous that he gets so much attention.‚ÄĚ
That passionate fandom was on display during a game earlier in the season when a Jackrabbits player picked up his bat before Navi could retrieve it. That led to forceful booing from the entire stadium ‚Äď and even some of the other players.
‚ÄúIt was the deepest boos I‚Äôve heard,‚ÄĚ Chris said. ‚ÄúThe players‚Äô own stadium was booing him for not letting Navi get the bat.‚ÄĚ
During Wednesday‚Äôs home game, the crowd was getting restless waiting for the Bat Dog to appear. Chris and Breanne, who own the local franchise of Sit Means Sit and sponsor the team, usually bring him for the first part of the game. But another event forced them to come for the last three innings.
Chris said once Navi didn‚Äôt appear during the first few innings, messages started popping up on his Facebook page asking if the dog was alright. People wanted to know: Where‚Äôs the Bat Dog?
They got their answer when Navi blasted out to home plate at the top of the 7th inning to grab a bat tossed by a player. The crowd erupted with cheers.
That applause kept up the rest of the game as Navi made appearances in between innings to do tricks.
But behind the scene, calling all the shots, stood Chris with his whistle in hand. And standing behind the scene is just where he wanted to be.
Chris said he‚Äôs a strong introvert who doesn‚Äôt like the spotlight. Navi, on the other hand, can‚Äôt get enough of all the attention showered on him during home games. That makes them perfect partners, he said.
‚ÄúHe likes to work 24-7, all day, every day and never stop. And he‚Äôs a clown,‚ÄĚ Chris said. ‚ÄúHe helps take the attention of the crowd off of me, so it‚Äôs great. Everybody knows me as that guy who has the dog. When I show up, nobody says ‚ÄėHow are you?‚Äô They all ask, ‚ÄėWhere‚Äôs the dog?‚Äô And I‚Äôm cool with that.‚ÄĚ
Not only does Navi have the outgoing personality that makes him the perfect Bat Dog. Even more importantly, he‚Äôs got the proper training, Chris said.
That training comes from a very specific kind of teaching philosophy developed by Sit Means Sit, an international company with locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Chris and Breanne have owned the local Kokomo franchise for three years. In that time, they‚Äôve become passionate advocates for the company‚Äôs training style, which uses a special kind of muscle-stimulator collar that teaches a pet to have laser-focus on their owner.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not a matter of discipline and it‚Äôs not a matter of rewards,‚ÄĚ Chris said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs about accurate information being provided by the handler to the dog as many times as needed until the dog understands.‚ÄĚ
Watching Navi perform at the Jackrabbits game, it‚Äôs clear that training has paid off. The canine doesn‚Äôt take his eyes from Chris, who uses hand motions and verbal commands to communicate with his dog.
And that kind of laser-focus developed by the training is critical when performing at a baseball stadium, he said.
‚ÄúOn the baseball field, that focus can be really difficult, because you‚Äôve got the game going on, you‚Äôve got runners running and people cheering,‚ÄĚ Chris said. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôve got to be able to get the dog to zone in.‚ÄĚ
Navi isn‚Äôt the only Bat Dog out there. Chris said the company currently has two other dogs that put on shows for baseball teams in Las Vegas and Madison, Wisconsin. All the dogs have become mini-superstars at their stadiums.
Chris and Breanne started the Bat Dog show in Kokomo last year with another one of their dogs, but he only appeared in five games and retired at the end of the season. The act last year was an instant hit, but the show has gained a new level of popularity this year with Navi.
Now, Chris said, they‚Äôre cashing in on that success. They just released a new line of T-shirts with a picture of Navi holding a bat in his mouth. Just beneath the picture it says, ‚ÄúDa Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Bat Dog!‚ÄĚ He said they‚Äôre also working on a baseball card and other merchandise featuring Navi.
Jackrabbits‚Äô Go-Team member Harlow said it all goes to show that Navi the Bat Dog has become the ‚Äúheart and soul of the team.‚ÄĚ And the stadium couldn‚Äôt ask for a better unofficial mascot than Navi, she said.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs always exciting and fun to watch, and always gets the crowds and kids excited,‚ÄĚ Harlow said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the whole point: to get the kids and families involved, and that‚Äôs what Navi is so good at.‚ÄĚ