Lucky Dog, Lucky Guy: Yale staff member trains up Handsome Dan XVIII
by Ashley Blackwell, Internal Communications
Not everything can be learned in the classroom—Handsome Dan XVIII and new handler Kevin Discepolo ’09 working on some new tricks around Yale’s Campus. Photo in front of Sterling Memorial Library by Robyn Lisone from Muttography
Handsome Dan XVIII, Yale’s five-month old bundle of puppy energy, seems to know when the cameras are around, at least that’s what his handler Kevin Discepolo ’09 believes. “I think he’s getting used to the cell phones because whenever they’re around he poses,” said Discepolo.
A former Yale lacrosse player, Discepolo now works as an assistant athletic director for Yale. After his five-year reunion, he started to consider a career working with college athletics. Lady Luck was on his side and the right position opened up in September 2014. “It’s been great being back and working for a place that I’m passionate about,” said Discepolo. He especially appreciates sharing his past experiences with student athletes and helping them succeed.
As an undergraduate, Discepolo enjoyed seeing the previous beloved canine mascots around Yale’s campus and fondly remembers Mugsy (Handsome Dan XVI) and Sherman (Handsome Dan XVII). After Sherman passed away late last summer, Discepolo mentioned his interest in the job when he heard that Chris Getman ’64 was retiring as Yale’s dog handler. Yale took him up on the offer.
With his expanded responsibilities, Discepolo is adjusting to a new schedule. “It has extended my work day significantly. I work a lot of hours now trying to squeeze in extra appearances. We’ve already been to both men’s and women’s basketball games. We’ve also been to a few hockey games. Any sports events, commencement, and move-in days welcoming people to Yale—we’ll be there. A lot of other events have been study breaks and Christmas parties. We’ve been to most of them and are trying to say ‘yes’ to as many requests as possible. I want people to meet him,” explains Discepolo.
To request an appearance with Handsome Dan XVIII, visit: yalehandsomedan.com or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For updates, follow Handsome Dan on Instagram (@handsomedanXVIII) and Twitter (@handsomedan18).
With the help of a search committee for the new mascot, Discepolo was heavily involved in the selection process long before the puppy’s birth. The search process included speaking to several universities that have live mascots to learn about their experiences. Ultimately, the committee settled on the Olde English Bulldogge breed. Following the decision, Discepolo contacted the International Olde English Bulldogge Association for lists of breeders who already had litters or would be having new litters soon.
Discepolo wanted to feel comfortable with an experienced breeder, and in the end, selected a breeder in Maine. He also wanted to get an understanding of the temperament of the dogs and a sense of what the new Handsome Dan would grow to look like. “We recognized that the Olde English sometimes looks a bit different. Some are a little taller or have more narrow faces. We didn’t want to stray too far from the English look and scare our entire fan base, but still wanted to move toward a healthier version of the English bulldog,” said Discepolo.
After learning about a potential candidate with an agreeable temperament and attractive markings, they were ready to move forward. On November 18, 2016, the new Handsome Dan arrived. With good fortune and the reassurance of modern science, Yale’s new Handsome Dan was a very healthy pick. Discepolo said, “There’s a company called Embark, which was started by a Yale grad—they do DNA testing on dogs. They sent me a kit to get the new Handsome Dan tested. We did the cotton swab and the results came back verifying that he’s does not carry any hereditary health risks.”
Like the Handsome Dans before him, the new mascot has a real name, Walter, appropriately named after Walter Camp, known as the ‘Father of American Football’. Like his namesake, Walter will be spending considerable time on the gridiron, and for that he needs special training. He has already been to ‘doggy prep school’ to learn some basic skills and will further his Yale education over the next few months. He will learn leash training, off-leash training, and the common sit, heel, and lay-down tricks as well as more complex skills, all in preparation for the Yale vs. Harvard game, with 60,000 people in attendance.
Discepolo has also had to learn some new tricks. A previous dog owner, he said, “Some of it was teaching me to be the Alpha. “I always thought that dogs learned tricks from incentives like treats, but we’ve really been working on commands based on trust and respect.” The point of the training is to create the hierarchy between them.
While team mascots are intended to bring their teams good fortune, there is no doubt that Handsome Dan XVIII and Discepolo are one lucky dog and guy; moreover, Yale is very fortunate to have them both on staff helping to cheer on Yalies for years to come.