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Sit. Stay. Boola Boola.

Once, the bulldog was supposed to strike fear into the hearts of Yale’s opponents. As a new Handsome Dan grows into the title, his job is to be dangerously cute.

Mark Alden Branch ’86 is executive editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine.

Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

Walter, aka Handsome Dan XVIII, posed for this photo, the one below, and the one on our cover when he was 11 weeks old. They were taken at Ray Tompkins House, home of the athletics department, in front of the section of the Yale fence where team captains get their official photos taken. View full image

It's not easy managing a celebrity. Kevin Discepolo ’09, an assistant athletics director at Yale, knows all about it. He is caretaker, human companion, and alpha dog to Walter—a puppy who, in November, took office as Handsome Dan XVIII. “December was overwhelming,” Discepolo says, while Yale’s official mascot, lying under a chair nearby, snores gently. “I got five to ten e-mails per hour asking about the dog. We did everything from photo shoots to study breaks to holiday parties.”

Walter’s popularity is in part a function of the Internet, where dog and cat pictures abound. Walter has thousands of followers on Instagram (@handsomedanxviii) who swoon at Discepolo’s pictures of him playing in the snow, sitting in Sterling Memorial Library, or—back in his tiniest days—peeking out from inside a silver trophy cup at Mory’s. “A lot of the comments say things like ‘I’m definitely choosing Yale because of this dog,’” Discepolo said.

From the beginning in 1892, Handsome Dan has been a symbol and a public relations tool for Yale, but the dog’s role and meaning have changed over the decades. The first Dan, a purebred champion bulldog owned by Andrew Graves ’92S, a Yale rower, was the prototype for team mascots and team nicknames everywhere. (It was Dan who inspired the Yale teams to call themselves Bulldogs, not the other way around.)

Dan I was a symbol of toughness, strength, and tenacity in Yale sports—celebrated for his ferocity, not his adorability. “He was always taken to games in a leash,” the Hartford Courant wrote in a tribute after his death, “and the Harvard foot ball team for years owed its continuing existence to the fact that the rope held.” Like Hollywood press agents, Yale storytellers even invented a backstory for Dan, disguising his blue-blooded origins with a claim that Graves had found the scrappy dog covered in soot in a New Haven blacksmith’s shop.

For decades after he died, Dan I remained just Dan—the one and only Yale bulldog. Then, in 1933, the Class of 1937 bought a bulldog and christened him Handsome Dan II. The title has been bestowed upon 16 more bulldogs since then. As with all royal lines, their reigns have varied greatly in length and success, and they have had any number of exploits. Handsome Dan II and Handsome Dan XII were victims of sensational kidnappings by students at Harvard and Princeton, respectively. Handsome Dan IX fell off the dock at Derby and had to be saved from drowning. Handsome Dan X sired a litter of celebrity puppies. But until recently the Dans’ realm was limited mostly to the athletic fields.

That began to change in the 1980s, when Christopher Getman ’64 became the owner and caretaker of Handsome Dan XIII, whose given name was Maurice. For a New Haven school benefit, Getman had the idea to auction off the right to walk Maurice at the next Harvard football game. The winner offered $1,500—and Getman knew “we were on to something.” Maurice “got asked to be at art openings and other non-athletic events,” he says. “The more the dog was out in the public, the more he was in demand.”

Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

View full image

Getman cared for three of the next four Handsome Dans, ending with Sherman, who died last summer. The dogs attended nearly every commencement (Sherman once wore a video camera for a Dan’s-eye view), posed for pictures with thousands of people, and met US presidents and other celebrities.

In the same period, official Yale turned to Handsome Dan to leaven its traditionally lofty self-image. The undergraduate admissions materials, which had tended to emphasize Yale’s superior scholarship and clubby milieu, began sporting fun bulldog images. (Since 2002, admitted students have been greeted on the admissions website by Handsome Dan lip-synching to a Whiffenpoof recording of Cole Porter’s “Bulldog.”) When the university expanded its shuttle bus service throughout New Haven in the 2000s, large bulldog decals made the buses more visible.

Today, Dan is a symbol of all of Yale: showing up at the School of Management as well as the Bowl, retweeted as often by divinity students as by cheerleaders. He is a unifying figure for the university’s schools. You might even compare his role at Yale to that of Queen Elizabeth II for the British Commonwealth. (If you think that’s a bit much, we won’t mention the East Asian languages professor who proposed that, as with the Dalai Lama, “in every generation there is the obligation to find in which canine body Handsome Dan has incarnated himself.”)

To become an ambassador, not just an avatar of athletic ferocity, Handsome Dan had to become a kinder, gentler bulldog. The recent holders of the title have been just that—in part because of their upbringing, but also because Yale’s preferred breed, the English bulldog, had been bred over the years to be more docile and less athletic. Unfortunately, those weren’t the only changes. Breeders aiming for that iconically flat, jowly bulldog face, so ugly that it’s cute, have created an animal with persistent health problems. Getman says that three of his four dogs had to have their throats surgically stretched so they could breathe properly. They also had to have lots of dental work, and some of them even had trouble swallowing food. “What’s happening to these dogs is criminal,” he says.

Muttography

Muttography

Walter lives in Guilford with assistant athletics director Kevin Discepolo ’09. Discepolo brings the dog to work with him every day, making Walter the most paws-on Yale mascot in decades. View full image

Having loved the dogs for years while seeing their infirmities up close, Getman advised Yale to consider a different breed. The athletics department consulted with dog experts—including psychology professor Laurie Santos, who runs Yale’s Canine Cognition Center—and considered several bulldog varieties. Eventually, the department settled on a dog with the quaintly spelled name of Olde English Bulldogge. This relatively new breed—a mix of English bulldog, American bulldog, mastiff, and pit bull—is billed as a “reconstruction” of the original English bulldog of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It has the traditional wrinkled, pugnacious-looking face, thick chest, and wide forelegs. But it also has a protruding snout (with clear airways) and a healthy muscularity.

Kevin Discepolo is keeping that last feature in mind as Walter grows and begins his obedience training. “Since he will be bigger and more athletic,” he says, “we want him to be well behaved.” This is the twenty-first century, after all. In this day and age, we shouldn’t have to fear for the safety of the Harvard team, even if the leash doesn’t hold.

Here are brief biographies of all 17 previous Handsome Dans—with photos, whenever we could find them.

Manuscripts and Archives

Manuscripts and Archives

Handsome Dan I View full image

Handsome Dan I (1892–97)
As the story goes, undergrad Andrew Graves ’92S bought a fierce, soot-covered bulldog from a local blacksmith. But that tale was concocted by later mythmakers. The original Dan was in fact a purebred bulldog who regularly won high honors at the Westminster Kennel Club show. (He was not, however, the first bulldog to represent Yale. Another show dog named Harper is recorded as having served as mascot at the Harvard football game in 1890.) He was widely beloved at Yale and by the general public, and journalists played up his ferocity and his effectiveness as a good-luck charm. Dan went abroad to England with Graves and died there in 1897. By 1906, Yale teams were being called the Bulldogs. Still, no live mascot would take Dan’s place until decades later. Like Lenin’s before the fall of the Soviet Union, his body is preserved behind glass; you can see it in the lobby of Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

Manuscripts and Archives

Manuscripts and Archives

Handsome Dan II View full image

Handsome Dan II (1933–37)
Given the unfortunate career of the second Handsome Dan, it’s a wonder that Yale ever tried again afterward. Originally named Dour Doruna, the dog was purchased by the Class of 1937 and kept by football coach Raymond “Ducky” Pond. His kidnapping by Harvard students in 1934 was national news—and a humiliation for Yale: he was photographed licking the feet of the statue of John Harvard. Soon he was regarded as a jinx, and Pond became adamantly opposed to having him, or any bulldog, at football games. Dan II died in 1937 from complications after a broken leg.

Handsome Dan III (1937–38)
It’s hard to find a photo or much else about the third Dan, who was presented to Coach Pond by alumni. He was said to be prone to extreme nervousness, which forced his abdication. But he continued to live with Pond.

Yale Alumni Magazine

Yale Alumni Magazine

Handsome Dan IV View full image

Handsome Dan IV (1938–40)
Known before his coronation as Tugboat Mate, Dan IV was the first mascot after Dan I to win wide acclaim. And he was just as well bred, winning the puppy category at the Westminster show. Sadly, he was hit by a car in 1939, and his rear legs were paralyzed. He died a year later from his injuries.

Yale Alumni Magazine

Yale Alumni Magazine

Handsome Dan V View full image

Handsome Dan V (1940–46)
The long and successful career of the fifth Dan started when local high school student Bob Day began bringing Bull, his family dog, to watch football practices. With Handsome Dan IV out of commission, Bull began filling in, and he eventually won the title. The Yale Daily News admiringly described him as “always eager and full of pep.”

Handsome Dan VI (1946–49)
The Day family also provided Yale with its sixth mascot. Dozer, a distant cousin of his predecessor, Bull, was solid white and only four months old when he was chosen—the first puppy to assume the job. He died of a heart attack while wintering in Florida.

Yale Alumni Magazine

Yale Alumni Magazine

Handsome Dan VII View full image

Handsome Dan VII (1949–52)
Also crowned while a puppy, the seventh Dan—registered as Dan-D-Dee—was a nephew of Dan VI. Owned by coach Herman Hickman, his reign started off well, and Elis were charmed by his ferocious dislike of Harvard and Princeton players and cheerleaders. But when he began to turn on Yale players, too, he was declared “antisocial” by a veterinarian and was quickly retired. He lived out the rest of his years as a watchdog on a Florida estate.

Handsome Dan VIII (1952–53)
Yale lore holds that the eighth Dan, owned by football manager George Shutt ’54, didn’t like crowds and was retired after only two games. During the 1952 and 1953 seasons, however, the Yale Daily News often referred to another dog it called Handsome Dan VIII. This bulldog was owned by a Bridgeport firefighter. When he regularly failed to show up for games, the Class of 1957 resolved to buy a new dog.

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated

Handsome Dan IX View full image

Handsome Dan IX (1953–59)
As freshmen, the Class of 1957 pooled their money to purchase the ninth Dan, a puppy who was born the same day their class entered Yale. He made his debut at the 1953 Harvard game. Dan IX held the post for six years and in 1956 even graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. His caretaker, geology professor John Sanders ’53PhD, drily described him as “a caricature of undergraduate apathy. . . . Dan’s main concerns in life are sleeping, eating, cars, and females.”

Yale Athletics

Yale Athletics

Handsome Dan X View full image

Handsome Dan X (1959–69)
Another purebred, also owned by Professor Sanders, Bayside Woodnought was known to intimates as Woodie. The alumni magazine said of him that he was so well trained for dog shows that “throughout the football season he stood stock still in his most flattering pose, even after Yale touchdowns.” He retired in 1969 and died two years later.

Manuscripts and Archives

Manuscripts and Archives

Handsome Dan XI View full image

Handsome Dan XI (1969–74)
Known as Oliver, the 11th Dan was bought by students as a gift for Pierson College master John Hersey ’36. On Hersey’s departure, the family of Yale College dean Horace Taft ’49 cared for the dog. He was generally well regarded, though he had a habit of sleeping in the sun during football games. Beset by arthritis, he retired when he was eight and died three years later.

Yale Daily News

Yale Daily News

Handsome Dan XII View full image

Handsome Dan XII (1975–1983)
Five years after Yale College went coed, the first and only female Handsome Dan took office (although a female did fill in as a kind of temp Dan at a Dartmouth game in 1953). Bingo, owned by Professor Rollin Osterweis ’30, ’46PhD, shattered the glass doghouse ceiling and represented Yale for eight years, despite grumbling from athletics director Delaney Kiphuth ’41, ’47MA, that “it’s very hard to call a female Handsome Dan.” She survived a highly publicized dognapping by Princeton students in 1979.

Yale Athletics

Yale Athletics

Handsome Dan XIII View full image

Handsome Dan XIII (1984–95, 1996)
The modern era of the peripatetic mascot as Yale ambassador began with Maurice, the longest-serving Handsome Dan. (His name was a tribute to baseball’s Ron Darling ’82, whose middle name is Maurice.) Owner Christopher Getman ’64 began bringing Maurice to nonathletic events and selling off the opportunity to walk him at charity auctions, leading to a new level of celebrity. He retired to make way for a younger dog in 1995, then came out of retirement to serve as interim Dan in 1996.

Yale Athletics

Yale Athletics

Handsome Dan XIV View full image

Handsome Dan XIV (1995–96)
The second of Getman’s Dans, known as Whizzer, died of respiratory complications when he was just two years old. He had suffered health troubles for most of his short life—a harbinger of the growing cluster of physical problems in the breed.

Yale Athletics

Yale Athletics

Handsome Dan XV View full image

Handsome Dan XV (1996–2005)
Getman says that Louis—named to honor Carmen Louis Cozza, Louis’ Lunch, and Mory’s Louis Linder—was the most photogenic of the Dans he knew. Dan XV was known for a Y-shaped spot in his fur. He was once an answer on Jeopardy!, and he also appeared on 60 Minutes. He died in office of a heart attack in 2005.

Yale Alumni Magazine

Yale Alumni Magazine

Handsome Dan XVI View full image

Handsome Dan XVI (2005–07)
When Getman decided to step back from mascot wrangling, Yale tried something new: an open talent search for the next Handsome Dan. A panel of judges in a widely promoted Old Campus contest chose Magnificent Mugsy Rangoon—owned by Robert Sansone of Hamden—in part because of the ferocity with which he attacked a crimson flag. After two years, though, Yale ended its relationship with Sansone and Mugsy for reasons that have not been disclosed.

Yale Athletics

Yale Athletics

Handsome Dan XVII View full image

Handsome Dan XVII (2007–2016)
Getman returned to Dan-handling duties with Sherman, named for both the tank and New Haven’s Revolutionary-era statesman Roger Sherman. Unusually sociable, Sherman was seen frequently at commencements and other campus events. Celebrities fortunate enough to meet him included Sir Paul McCartney and former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush ’48. George W. Bush ’68 painted a portrait of him that fetched $30,000 at an auction to benefit Mory’s.

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