Courtesy Yale Athletics
Handsome Dan XVIII, an eight-week-old bulldog puppy, was delivered to campus Friday after a lengthy search process in which the University considered breeders from dozens of states for the new mascot.
The dog’s predecessor, Handsome Dan XVII, died on Aug. 11, and the Athletic Department announced on Sept. 20 that a search for its replacement was underway. The department reached out to the International Olde English Bulldogge Association to find a breeder and was soon flooded with calls from breeders from all across the country.
Handsome Dan XVIII is now in the care of his new keeper, Assistant Athletics Director of Facilities, Operations and Events Kevin Discepolo ’09. He will not be attending the annual Yale-Harvard football game on Saturday or other events until he has attended training school.
Traditionally, Yale’s mascot has been an English Bulldog, but Chris Getman ’64, who worked as caretaker for four of the last five Handsome Dans over a span of 33 years, suggested a change in breed this year. Because of generations of inbreeding, English Bulldogs have seen a decrease in life expectancy and vitality, so he advised the Athletic Department to look for an Olde English Bulldogge instead.
“The bulldog is the most popular mascot in the country,” Getman said. “We’re going in a different direction. Yale is making a statement about the health of bulldogs.”
According to Steve Conn, associate athletics director of sports publicity, Yale was searching for not only a healthier breed, but a mascot who would be more athletic rather than chubby and cute.
While the typical lifespan for English Bulldogs is eight to nine years, Olde English Bulldogges often live up to 13 years.
“Handsome Dan is such a big figure on campus,” Discepolo said. “To have such a high turnover rate didn’t make sense.”
Yale took several factors into consideration for its choice of mascot, including the breeder’s experience, the health and temperament of the dog’s parents as well as its color and markings. The Athletic Department narrowed the list down to three contenders along the East Coast before settling on a breeder in Maine.
Given the celebrity status of Yale’s mascot, Getman said Handsome Dan’s personality is of paramount importance.
“He’s gotta like crowds,” he said. “He’s gotta enjoy being mobbed every time he goes out in public.”
In addition to walking on the sidelines at football games, Handsome Dan encounters crowds during walks around campus, at University fundraisers and at annual events like Bulldog Days and Commencement.
The new puppy seems to fit the bill.
“He’s probably one of the most outgoing [members] of the litter,” Discepolo said. “He responds well to people and is really curious.”
Yale became the first university in the United States with a live mascot when rower and football player Andrew Graves, class of 1892, bought the first Handsome Dan from a New Haven blacksmith for five dollars. But given the difference in breed between Handsome Dan XVIII and his predecessor, the dog’s arrival marks a departure from tradition.
The transition of caretaker duties from Getman to Discepolo, after Getman’s three decades of involvement with Yale mascots, marks another shift. The Athletic Department tabbed Discepolo, a former Yale lacrosse player and lifelong dog lover, as a fitting replacement. He owned an English Springer Spaniel as a child and had been thinking about getting a new dog.
While Getman would bring Handsome Dan XVII to work several times a week, Discepolo hopes to bring Handsome Dan XVIII to campus every day.
“I plan to bring Handsome Dan with me [to athletic events],” he said. “I see him as more of a colleague.”
Discepolo and other members of the department will start taking the eight-week-old puppy on regular walks around campus within the next month or two. Handsome Dan XVIII already has a Twitter feed, @HandsomeDan18, and over 1,200 followers on Instagram.
“We want him to be an inspiration to student-athletes,” Conn said. “We want him to be accessible to the Yale community. He’ll be walked around the campus on a regular basis by [Discepolo] and other members of the Athletic Department.”
Despite his instant fame, Handsome Dan XVIII has a tough legacy to live up to. The prior mascot, known affectionately as Sherman, was a fixture at alumni fundraising events and benefits for local charities. In his nine years as mascot, Sherman met former U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush ’48 and Jimmy Carter, as well as Paul McCartney. Sherman was also appointed a midshipman by the United States Naval Reserve.
“Sherman raised a lot of money for local charities,” Getman said. “He’s a great spokesman.”
Discepolo and Getman met at Mory’s to discuss Handsome Dan XVIII’s role in the community, and Getman feels confident that he will be able to continue Sherman’s legacy. Though Discepolo will be the new mascot’s primary caretaker, Getman hopes to bring Handsome Dan XVIII to Commencement and a few games this year.
Handsome Dan XVIII has a veterinary health checkup on Monday, and the Athletic Department is currently searching for a trainer. Conn expects a special introduction for the new mascot at a winter sporting event.