On a late-summer morning at a Georgetown University coffee shop, dog trainer Janice Hochstetler explains why not just anyone is allowed to run up and pet the school’s new mascot-in-training. “We shifted to a model that’s a little more like a celebrity,” she says. “If Britney Spears was here, you couldn’t just go jump in and take a selfie. You couldn’t touch her, you couldn’t stop and talk to her just because you wanted to.”
During his “off-duty” time, she says, the same goes for Baby Jack.
The comparison isn’t so far-fetched—there’s a lot of pressure on the ten-month-old puppy, and if something were to upset him, triggering his own Britney-style meltdown (presumably sans umbrella), he might not get a chance at a comeback. The current Jack the Bulldog has held the job for six years, but he wasn’t first in line for it. Back in 2013, another puppy, J.J., had been in training for 15 months when he was fired after biting a kid. So, yeah, mascotting isn’t for everyone.
To be fair, J.J. was a bit of an outlier. Georgetown welcomed its first bulldog in 1962. The tradition then faded for a time, until seniors in the class of 1999 successfully lobbied to “Bring Jack Back.” If he makes it through training, Baby Jack will be the fifth dog to hold the title since then. So far, his prospects look good. The puppy—full name: John F. Carroll, after Georgetown’s founder—arrived at the university in July. He was selected by Hochstetler, a bulldog breeder herself, from a farm in Alberta, Canada, because of his gentle demeanor. Baby Jack’s father was a champion show dog, which should mean the puppy will be predisposed to pleasing trainers, too.
As we walk around campus, the dog cautiously explores his still-new surroundings, poking his nose into anything that piques his interest. A few people approach to take photos. Baby Jack’s student walkers allow a few snaps before gently shooing his admirers away. There’s no question the puppy is adorable. He actually slipped into a fountain while we were hanging out—you can’t teach that level of cute. But he’s got a long way to go before he’ll be ready to inherit the mantle from the grown-up Jack, whose signature maneuver is to skateboard through Capital One Arena as Georgetown basketball fans lose their minds. Hard as it may be to imagine this clumsy little guy mastering such a feat, Hochstetler says it’s definitely on the agenda for him to learn.
Baby Jack’s duties will also include greeting fans and starring in promotional photo shoots. For now, his main task is simply to get used to life on campus. He’s been coming to the office occasionally with the older Jack’s caretaker, McKenzie Stough, to spend time around lots of people at once. He naps in a cubicle and greets staff in the Office of Public Affairs, where Stough works. “He really just brightens everyone’s day,” she says. When he’s not at school, Baby Jack lives with his caretaker, Cory Peterson, Georgetown’s director of neighborhood life, in a rowhouse near campus.
In September, Baby Jack went to his first football game, just to sit on the sidelines and soak up the environment. Once he gets comfortable with outdoor events, he’ll work up to smaller indoor ones, such as women’s basketball games at the campus’s McDonough Arena. After that, his next hurdle will be to visit Capital One Arena when it’s empty to walk in the stands and through the tunnel. He’ll come by again when the team is warming up, then a few more times during games to sit among the crowd without having to perform.
Right now, it’s hard to know when he’ll be ready to assume official mascot duties, but there’s a chance he could take the spotlight at Capital One during the 2020 men’s basketball season. In the meantime, it’s important for Baby Jack to maintain some normalcy. So Peterson does his best to make sure the puppy has plenty of opportunities to interact with other dogs. He goes on play dates around the neighborhood and frequents nearby parks. Celebrities—they’re just like us.
This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Washingtonian.