Trip in a tux

Butler Blue III: A Dog with a Nose for Service

By Sarah Bahr

Hoops

Butler Blue III’s best moment was also his worst.

When Butler University’s then 3-year-old bulldog mascot threw up on the court at Madison Square Garden before a 2015 Big East men’s basketball tournament loss to Xavier, it brought him national notoriety. 

Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and The Washington Post all poked fun at the pint-sized puker, but Blue III, also known as Trip, took to Twitter to rally the troops.

“Puke and rally. Give me some water. I’ve got a #BIGEASTTourney game to win. #GoDawgs,” Michael Kaltenmark, Trip’s caretaker and Butler’s Director of External Relations, tweeted on his behalf.

Kaltenmark says the 65-pound bulldog, who typically paces the Butler sidelines during most men’s football and basketball games, lapping up popcorn, head pats, and praise, was overwhelmed by the moment.

“He goes hard,” Kaltenmark says, “which sometimes equates to him getting overheated and overexcited.”

But, tongue lolling and tail wagging, Trip quickly recovered—and shot Butler into the national spotlight.

“Vomiting on the court at Madison Square Garden might be the best thing he ever did publicity-wise,” Kaltenmark said. “He has so much heart.”

On and off the court.

 

Hospital

It isn’t hard to imagine the utility of a floppy-eared, doe-eyed, Pikachu costume-clad bulldog skidding down a hospital hallway for cheering up a patient.

As a member of the Eskenazi Hospital pet therapy team, Trip visits patients at the downtown Indianapolis campus once a month.

“He’s gentle and patient,” Kaltenmark says. “He acts like he was raised as a therapy dog.”

In addition to raising the spirits of hospital residents, Kaltenmark says Trip receives numerous requests for charity event appearances at schools and businesses — “none of which we really turn down,” he says.

Kaltenmark and Trip head to elementary school classrooms to read Blue's children’s book, Good Boy, Blue!, and stop by Gleaners Food Bank, where they help sort donations.

But Trip—and Kaltenmark’s—favorite community initiative might be the Butler acceptance letters the duo deliver to admitted students’ doors.

The two cruise the city in Trip’s “Blue Mobile,” a white Ford Transit covered in decals of Trip’s face that sports a “Blue 3” license plate. Kaltenmark and Trip have taken the van all over the country, from Butler men’s basketball games in Florida to frozen custard runs at Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Milwaukee.

They’ve been making the doorstep visits to admitted students since 2014, logging about 100 visits annually, October through March, Kaltenmark says.

Most of the visits happen in greater Indianapolis, including one earlier this fall to a senior from North Central High School, Tatum Parker, who beat cancer—twice—and then started a foundation that has delivered more than 3,500 game-and-goodie-stuffed backpacks to kids with cancer.

Special visits to students like Parker stand out, Kaltenmark says. 

“Any time you can make a kid cry, those are good,” he says. “When he or she is so excited about getting in to Butler that they’re moved to tears.”

 

Hashtags

In addition to his charity and community work, Trip has a loyal following of virtual fans who track his every bark on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Kaltenmark posts daily updates on Twitter, where Trip’s more than 31,000 followers like and laugh about photos, videos, and GIFs of the bulldog lapping up ice cream, wading through a ball pit, and posing with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Unlike in real life, in which Kaltenmark says Trip is “sort of a diva” who’s a bit select about who he’ll associate with, he has legions of canine friends on social media, including the governor’s dog, Henry Holcomb, and fellow mascots like Yale’s Handsome Dan and the University of Redlands’ first female bulldog mascot, Addie, who Kaltenmark says is Trip’s “girlfriend.”

But Trip doesn’t just lap up the likes: Kaltenmark uses social media as a force for good.

When Trip celebrated his seventh birthday December 23, a Twitter campaign encouraging people to donate non-perishable food items to Gleaners Food Pantry at the December 21 men’s basketball game netted six full bins of donations and $200 in cash.

And Trip’s Twitter updates allow followers a glimpse of his home life when he isn’t pounding the paint, from bathtime to balloon-popping to standing guard over one of Kaltenmark’s sick sons, asleep on the couch under a Star Wars blanket with a bulldog atop his back.

 

Home

Kaltenmark began caring for Butler’s second live mascot of the modern era, Blue II, in 2004. After donning the Butler mascot suit as an undergraduate, the Butler alum (‘02) knew he was ready for the real thing.

“My wife and I knew when we got married that we wanted to get a bulldog,” Kaltenmark says. “I just didn’t know we would get THE bulldog.”

After the 9-year-old Blue II, whom ESPN called the “undisputed star” of Butler basketball, died of congestive heart failure in 2013, Trip stepped into the role and became Blue III.

Kaltenmark says he wouldn’t be surprised if, between Butler basketball and football games, hospital visits, doorstep deliveries, charity events, and award dinners, Trip clocked 365 appearances per year.

“You name it, he goes to it,” Kaltenmark says. “And he has an outfit for everything.”

Blue III’s wardrobe is comprised of tuxedos, jerseys, white coats, and two overflowing tubs of Halloween costumes, including sushi roll and hot-dog getups (“I wish Halloween was more than one day a year,” Kaltenmark says).

Being the personal assistant for a bulldog takes more time than you’d think.

“It’s a lot to juggle,” Kaltenmark says. “I wish there were three of me. But it doesn’t feel like work because I love all the things I do.”

Trip has had the chance to meet T-Pain, Kesha, John Green, and Jay Leno, and has traveled to New York City, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and a bevy of other Midwest cities. He counts Hogsett, Andrew Luck, and Gordon Hayward as fans. 

But humble? That’s one word Kaltenmark wouldn’t use to describe his diva dog.

“He thinks it’s all for him,” Kaltenmark says. “The plane he sometimes travels with the basketball team on, the applause [at games] … ”

Of course, it doesn’t help that Trip has a personal van with his face plastered on it, or that the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame sells a $650 life-size bobblehead of the bulldog, or that he’s been featured on NBC Nightly News, or that he’s photographed more often than a fashion model.

“It is exhausting being this beautiful,” the caption on a Twitter photo of him lying on his back in his bed reads.

But, at the end of the day, he’s all about simple pleasures. Give him a cardboard box to crawl into, a bag of popcorn to snarf, or a hospital patient to hug, and he’s a happy-go-lucky pooch.

“I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. #GoDawgs,” he tweeted Dec. 5.

If he hadn’t hit the character limit, he might still be writing.

  

Butler Blue III: A Dog with a Nose for Service

Butler's live mascot, a.k.a. Trip, spreads love (and drool) wherever he goes.