With a gentle, mottled face and a natural flair for publicity, Handsome Dan XVI — or Louis, depending on who you ask — is the most recent in a long line of the esteemed bulldogs rumored to bring luck to the courts and fields of every Yale team.
Any dog that belongs to this exclusive group has a lot to live up to. From “speaking” to the Timothy Dwight College fellows in Commons to attending games at many Ivy League campuses, Louis seems to be fulfilling his end of the bargain quite well.
Louis may be relatively new to the mascot scene, but Christopher Getman ’64, former first vice president of Merrill Lynch, founder of SoundView Capital, former football and baseball coach for Yale and Louis’ caretaker, said that Louis attracts quite a bit of attention from Yale students and New Haven residents alike.
“He’s a celebrity. Everywhere we go people know him,” Getman said.
In addition to serving as the face of Yale for prospective students and rival teams, Louis has guest-starred on Animal Planet, and is no stranger to the pages of Sports Illustrated. Once, he even graced the cover of PetWorld.
One could say Louis has all the credentials of a professional model.
“If you’re the mascot, you get used to [posing for pictures] very quickly,” Getman said.
While all the duties of a professional mascot might be taxing — especially during the football season — Louis doesn’t seem to mind.
“He likes his job. He gets an awful lot of attention when he goes to a game, and anywhere else,” Getman said.
Getman seems to enjoy the role of caretaker, as well.
“It’s a privilege. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a big responsibility,” he explained. Despite Getman’s multiple obligations to the financial world and the University alike, he said he has not had trouble juggling his many roles.
“One of the nice things about being in business for yourself is that you can make time for things that are important to you, like taking the dog to graduation,” he said.
While some might fear that the Iams-eating Yale mascot has let fame get to his head, the contrary seems to be true. With a slightly skunky odor left over from a chance summer encounter and a Y-shaped design naturally gracing his fur, the handsome bulldog is friendly and playful with both strangers and friends alike.
“He’s just a nice dog,” Getman said of his charge. To Getman, Louis is a member of the family, and gets along well with Getman’s wife, three children, and four grandchildren — not to mention Harriet, Louis’s sister, and the five other canine family members that overrun the Getman household when the entire family comes to visit.
Yale’s bulldog tradition began when Andrew B. Graves, Class of1892, brought Handsome Dan I to Yale’s campus in 1889. Countless myths obscure the story of how the original Dan was brought into Graves’ care, but summaries compiled by the Sterling Memorial Library’s Department of Manuscripts and Archives do claim that Handsome Dan I had “one of the greatest faces a dog of that breed ever carried,” and won hundreds of ribbons as a result.
Those skeptical of Dan I’s magnificence are directed to the first floor trophy room of Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium, where his stuffed remains are on display.
Geoffrey Zonder, the assistant archivist at the Yale Athletics Department, said Yale students unofficially appointed Handsome Dan I the Yale mascot before the University officially recognized him as such in 1892. After Dan I’s death in 1898, it was not until 1933 that Handsome Dan II came along, as a gift from the Yale freshman class.
From that time on, there has been an almost uninterrupted canine dynasty answering to the name of Handsome Dan.
Louis is not the first Yale mascot Getman has welcomed into his home, either.
“Maurice was a genius,” Getman said of his first charge, who came into his care in 1983 at the request of friend and former Yale Athletics Director Frank Ryan. Maurice was known to play dead when asked whether he would rather go to Harvard or die, and was notorious for attacking costumed mascots if he got loose — not unlike Handsome Dan I, who the Hartford Courant said was so ferocious to the opposing team that “the Harvard football team for years owed its continued existence to the fact that the rope held.”
“[Maurice] got thrown out of Harvard for attacking a mounted policeman,” Getman said.
Maurice served as Handsome Dan twice. He was called back from retirement after Whizzer, the second of Getman’s charges, died of heat-related respiratory problems in 1996. Because of Maurice’s double term, Louis is called both Handsome Dan XV and XVI, depending on the source.
Five-year-old Louis — who is named after Louis Linder of Mory’s, former football coach Carmen Louis Cozza, and the popular New Haven restaurant Louis’ Lunch — has served as Yale’s mascot since 1996. Fans may be able to spot him next at the Yale-Harvard men’s ice hockey game on March 1.