“He was meant to be Handsome Dan”: Inside the search for Kingman, Handsome Dan XIX
The Olde English Bulldogge puppy, a nephew of his predecessor Walter and from the same breeder in Maine, was announced as Yale’s newest mascot on March 18.
Long before the Yale community met Kingman on March 18 through a formal announcement and a flurry of activity on social media, the search for Handsome Dan XIX took Yale administrators from California to Maine.
Kingman, an 11-week-old Olde English Bulldogge, is only a puppy, but the search for the Blue and White’s new mascot actually began last fall, at least a month before the News reported that Walter — who served as Handsome Dan XVIII — would be retiring. Yale’s Deputy Director of Athletics Mary Berdo, along with Assistant Director of Athletics of Brand Management Broc Hazlet, began looking into how other schools handle their live mascot programs before undertaking a nationwide search.
“We were mainly fact-finding to learn about their breeds of bulldogs, the availability of litters, pricing, health checks [and] timing to pick a dog,” Berdo said. “They were all-encompassing conversations as we wanted to find out all details about the breeders and how they do business.”
Berdo and Hazlet spoke with three breeders before presenting their findings to Kassandra Haro ’18, who is serving as the new Handsome Dan handler.
From the three, Haro chose Wicked Good Bulldogges, the Bristol, Maine breeder that also was home to Walter. She explained that former Yale Assistant Athletic Director of Facilities Kevin Discepolo ’09, Walter’s handler, had a great experience with Wicked Good Bulldogges, and she wanted to “continue” that relationship.
Wicked Good Bulldogges did not respond to multiple interview requests via phone and email.
In fact, in addition to being his successor, Kingman is also Walter’s nephew.
“It just so happened that the litter he was born in, the mom is Walter’s sister,” Haro explained. “It was kind of perfect, honestly, because he can call him Uncle Walter in all his [social media] posts now.”
A week prior to picking up Kingman in late February, Haro visited Maine to play with the litter of nine puppies. She realized very early on that Kingman was a “star.” As opposed to a typical family pet, a mascot faces higher demands — it must have a tolerance to loud noises and a willingness to frequently interact with new people.
For Kingman, this all came naturally; he did “really well” with the temperament tests that determine whether a puppy is suited to be a mascot or not, Haro said. Kingman is especially good at posing for photos, as he will stop and look at the camera just long enough for the photographer to get the perfect shot, according to Haro.
“He behaves like a mascot, he behaves like a star,” Haro said. “You could just tell from the get-go: He was meant to be Handsome Dan.”
Another breeder whom Yale talked to during the search process was Ary Toussi of One of a Kind Bulldogs in California. Toussi told the News that he also spoke with Discepolo in 2016 during the search for Handsome Dan XVIII. Berdo and Hazlet reached out and met with him on a Zoom call that occurred in early October, he told the News.
Toussi said that he typically has a very long waitlist, but was willing to let Yale skip to the front of the line in exchange for “stud rights.”
“I thought it would be a good idea for Yale to have an active stud so they can get the next generation, get another Handsome Dan, right off of him,” Toussi explained. “Basically to continue his lines, I thought, would be a really cool idea.”
Berdo told the News that there has not been an agreement made with any breeder with regard to future Handsome Dans, and she is “uncertain” of whether future Handsome Dans will be related to Handsome Dan XIX.
The decision to choose an Olde English Bulldogge to serve as Yale’s mascot was a suggestion first made by Chris Getman ’64 — handler of four Handsome Dans over 33 years — to the Yale administration in 2016 prior to Walter being selected as Handsome Dan XVIII. Before Walter, who was the first Olde English Bulldogge to serve as Yale’s mascot, Handsome Dans were typically English bulldogs — a breed riddled with health issues and described by Getman as looking like “sausages on four legs” in a 2017 interview with the New Haven Register.
Haro explained that she wanted to stick with the Olde English Bulldogge because they are healthier and more athletic than the traditional English bulldog.
While aesthetics was not a priority when selecting the next Handsome Dan — Haro wanted a dog that would “enjoy being the Yale mascot” — she said that Kingman has “the most precious face ever” and his brindle coloring is “absolutely stunning.”
“Obviously, he’s a beautiful pup, but his temperament is what ultimately got him the role of Handsome Dan,” Haro said. “He was such an angel when I met him, and he still is.”
Yale community members can email Kingman at email@example.com.
Ángela Pérez contributed reporting.
James Richardson | firstname.lastname@example.org