There’s a new member of the San Francisco 49ers, but this one is a whole lot shorter than the other pro football players.
And, unlike any of her teammates, Zoë is female — and she has four legs. She’s a French Bulldog who’s the first to serve as a certified emotional support animal for an NFL team.
Zoë, who’s just a year old, was adopted by the 49ers in October 2018. As a “specifically designated” emotional support animal, her duties are to help keep the players’ spirits up and to calm them when they’re stressed out. Also, just like most dogs, she’s happy to give the team her unconditional love, whether they happen to be winning or losing.
“The players rely on Zoë to brighten their day,” a 49ers spokesperson told CNN. “Meetings, practice, and workouts can make for a long day. Zoë acts as a stress reliever.”
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It was defensive lineman Solomon Thomas’ idea for his team to adopt a dog. He was inspired by Vito, another French bulldog who a 49ers employee was puppy sitting last year. Vito got to come to the 49ers training camp every day, and the players took a shine to the little guy.
Thomas’ sister had recently died when he approached Austin Moss II, the 49ers’ director of player engagement and Zoë’s official owner, to suggest having an emotional support dog for the team.
“I knew that he had just gone through a really tragic experience with losing his sister, so it was just really cool to see him get as much joy as he did coming into the office,” Moss told KRON. “And I knew that it was having a good impact, having a dog here.”
Thomas said that whenever he’s feeling down, he likes to play with Zoë. He feels like he has a special bond with her. “She just kind of helps me get my mind off stuff I don’t need to be thinking about,” he told KRON. “Or negative things I don’t want to be thinking about. She’s just really instrumental in helping me just kinda mentally relax and refresh.”
Zoë is more interested in playing “volleyball” than football with Thomas and the rest of the team. She also loves to play with balloons…and, unsurprisingly, she loves treats. “[S]o we keep the treats around, and we’re working on doing shake, sit lay down, all those things,” Moss told KRON.
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The benefits of having an emotional support dog for the team were immediately apparent, Moss said.
“These guys are very strong powerful men that aren’t used to be able to express their emotions freely,” he told KRON. “But when you come in here in a safe space, and you know that it’s just about being yourself and having a good time and getting some help that you may need — Zoe brings a lot of value to that.”
Hmm, imagine if Michael Vick had been able to cuddle with an emotional support dog early in his career. Perhaps it might have prevented him from killing Pit Bulls with his bare hands, but who knows.
You can follow Zoë’s adventures on her Instagram account, the49ersfrenchie.