It’s official: Cam Newton has retired, having been named a Grand Champion, and Kelvin Benjamin is being groomed to take his place.
Newton’s manager says he now will travel the country, serving as a highly paid escort on the Pekingese dating circuit.
Both Newton and Benjamin are powdered and petite, extremely fluffy show dogs that have been legally registered in Mecklenburg County under the names of Carolina Panthers players. And the owners, Mike and Andrea Johnson, are far from the only pet owners to do so.
Never miss a local story.
An Observer analysis of 170,000 pets registered with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care & Control Division revealed that hundreds of pet owners have borrowed names from the team, which plays its first regular season home game Sunday against Houston.
Cam is laid back and belches a lot.
Andrea Johnson on her Pekingese showdog
Exactly how many is hard to count, since owners use every imaginable variation of player names: Peppers (as in former Panther Julius Peppers), DeAngelo (for former Panther DeAngelo Williams), Cam Newton, Cameron Newton and just plain Cam (who’s starting his fifth season as the Panthers’ quarterback). Then there are the cases where owners accidentally (or on purpose) misspelled the name – like the two people who named dogs Kuechley, presumably after Luke Kuechly (no second ‘e,’ folks).
Greg Olsen, Fozzy Whittaker, Ryan Kalil, Jarrett Boykin, Bené Benwikere also have variations of their names on the pet list, along with former players such as wide receiver Steve Smith, kicker John Kasay and quarterback Chris Weinke. (No Delhommes, but there are 543 Jakes.)
45 dogs named Cam
44 dogs named Newton
We asked the Panthers what they think about all this, given how confusing it might get if we accurately report, for example, that a Luke Kuechly is under quarantine for biting a neighbor.
The human Luke Kuechly – who recently became the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history – apparently sees the humor, just like the rest of us.
“It’s neat that people are naming their pets after me,” he said. “I appreciate the support, and it’s great to see the support people have for the Panthers. ”
16 dogs named Dog
A survey of the county registry shows the most popular name in Charlotte for cats of both genders is Kitty, even though Kitty didn’t make the top 10 names for males. For dogs, it is Bella.
Bella is also the second most popular name for cats. Why? Well, Bella Swan is the teenage heroine in those “Twilight” vampire movies, which ’tween girls adored.
Melissa Knicely of Animal Care & Control predicts names from the Disney movie “Frozen” are the next trend, judging by a jump in Annas and Elsas visiting vet offices.
She said the staff can’t help but laugh at the community’s creativity with pet names, or occasional lack of it. Sixteen people have dogs named Dog, and 29 have cats named Cat. To give their pets a complete identity crisis, owners named one cat Dog and two dogs Cat, the registry shows. There are also a Who and three Whats roaming the area.
Kitty is the most popular cat name in Mecklenburg County, counting both male and female.
“Some of the names are so bad that we can’t even say them out loud or put on our website, because it can’t be displayed,” Knicely says.
So why does the division bother having the registry?
One commonsense reason, she says, is so officials know where to return those 2,600 stray pets found roaming the streets each year (most of which are dogs). But more important, the list keeps tabs of which animals have had rabies vaccinations. Mecklenburg County has 25 to 35 animals a year test positive for rabies.
It’s a state law that all dogs, cats and ferrets older than four months get rabies vaccinations. Once a pet has received the shot, veterinarians record it in a database shared with Mecklenburg County. The result is our extremely long, frequently odd, registry that includes names like Earnhardt, Ryan Lochte, Catzilla and Al Poochino.
Bella is the most popular dog name in Mecklenburg County.
Coincidentally, Knicely is among the people who have named a dog after Cam Newton, though in her case it was a foster puppy. She has also staged some Panthers-themed adoption campaigns, believing anything team-related gets attention at this time of year.
A survey of the registry shows many Panthers fans have multiple pets with player names. Aimee Van Kleeck has a Great Dane named after Olsen and a cat named Newton. When the Observer asked about taking a portrait of Newton, she confided that the cat is “crazy … like, really crazy.”
Other fans confessed that they have family traditions of naming pets for football stars. Nathan Baber says his father, Van Baber, insisted on naming all their pets after NFL linebackers, so he grew up with dogs named Butkus (for Dick Butkus) and Boz (for Brian Bosworth).
Nathan and his fiancée, Megan Stahl, continued the tradition by naming their boxer after linebacker Kuechly.
Sympathy for growing up Kuechly
The most common name among Panthers pets was Cam Newton, including 45 Cams and 44 Newtons. However, Luke Kuechly could take the top spot if you count the 13 Kuechlys, 2 Kuechleys and all 194 dogs and cats named Luke.
There are 46 pets named Panther – including 11 dogs – and 14 cats named Sir Pur or Sir Purr. Coach Ron Rivera is not on the list anywhere. And there are surprisingly no Ganos, named for kicker Graham Gano, whose quirky tweets have made him the team comedian.
Dog owner Drew Sanchez has a theory on that: Longevity of your pet versus a player. “The way we go through kickers, you just never know.”
I now know what it was like for Luke Kuechly growing up, beginning of every school year with new people butchering his name.
Drew Sanchez on moving to California with a German shepherd named for a Carolina Panther
Sanchez named his very stubborn German shepherd Kuechly, but the joke may be on him. Sanchez recently relocated to Northern California, where few people know what a Kuechly is or how to pronounce it.
“I now know what it was like for Luke Kuechly growing up, beginning of every school year with new people butchering his name,” Sanchez said. “I get Koochly, Kooky, Koochety, you name it. My own grandmother can’t spell his name.”
For those who don’t know, it’s pronounced Keek-lee, but the real Luke Kuechly says he long ago got used to mispronunciations and misspellings. “It happened quite a bit, and I ended up learning to respond to anything that started with ‘K’ and ended in ‘L-Y,’ ” Kuechly said.
Coincidentally, he has encountered a couple of canine Kuechlys while out and about in Charlotte, including a 194-pound mastiff that was brought to a fan event. “It was huge! I was just hoping the leash wouldn’t break,” Kuechly said.
13 dogs named Kuechly
2 dogs named Kuechley
194 dogs and cats named Luke
The mastiff belongs to Lori Turner, who named the dog after Kuechly believing they share a big heart. “When you have a dog this big, you live around him, not with him,” she said.
At the other end of the scale are Mike and Andrea Johnson’s Pekingese show dogs named Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin. Cam, 3, competed for about two years and quickly obtained his championship title, Andrea Johnson said.
The family recently bought a new show dog, and Johnson is seriously considering naming the pup after Panthers Coach Ron Rivera’s wife, Stephanie, an advocate for the Humane Society. Option B, Johnson says, is Rosalind, which is the name of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson’s wife.
Johnson says she’ll make a final decision after the 12-week-old starts to exhibit a little more of the distinct personality owners expect from their show dogs.
In the case of her little Cam Newton, those personality traits include bold confidence and “strutting his stuff.”
“Cam is laid back, loves to eat, naps like a beer drinker and belches a lot,” Johnson said, laughing. “I get folks who smile and laugh at the name. These dogs are very frou-frou little showdogs, nothing like the big, muddy, sweaty football players they are named after. Even I think that’s funny.”