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Drexel Therapy Dog Inspires Writing Contest

June 13, 2023

MFA candidates with Mocha Latte
Students and Mocha Latte during class. 

When Drexel University therapy dog Mocha Latte was exactly five months old, what her veterinarian thought had been growing pains for the pup turned out to be a virulent infection.

Wait, that’s too sad. Actually, she stood her ground against a dragon that was trying to hurt her human — Janine Erato, who is the handler for the therapy dogs — and ended up with casts on both front legs after saving Erato and retrieving a sword to fight the dragon,.

There are nine other versions of Mocha Latte’s story, which does have a happy ending despite the grim and scary reality of the Cane Corso’s health issues. They all come from MFA program candidates’ submissions for a contest that Erato held in April.

Unfortunately, the first story is the real one. In the first few months of her life, Mocha Latte had spent a lot of time in the hospital, including seven days in critical care. Erato barely left her side during that time, and Mocha Latte spent another 13 days in the hospital in general. She had developed an infection that caused issues with her limbs and growth, which is why she had two casts — and later, custom braces — on her front legs. Erato had been told that putting her down might be for the best, but she and Mocha Latte stuck it out, and now the dog is recovering well and down to one brace.

Students pet and take pictures of Mocha Latte
When they met Mocha Latte, students wanted to take pictures of her. 

“The soon-to-be graduates of the MFA program had reached out and asked me to come to an event, and I said, ‘How about I host a contest for your students?”’ Erato said. “The writing contest was good because [the real story] is very depressing to tell people about how a dog almost lost her life, so instead she fought a dragon to save her mom.”

Erato was the judge of the 10 submissions but brought in a couple of outside observers to help her make the final decision. Nicholette Guy, MFA creative writing ’23, took home the honors and the $25 prize for her story, “The Dragon Casts.”

“They were all great stories, so I looked at certain things we had asked to be in the story to help narrow it down,” Erato said. “The way she [Guy] described Mocha’s personality and our bond was very true to us. It may have been completely unintentional, but it really hit home for me.”

For Guy, it was the first writing contest she’d ever won, and she said it was fun to write something a little out of the ordinary.

“I immediately jumped to some pretty sad stories, but I wanted to give Mocha a more heroic tale,” Guy said. “I was brainstorming with my partner, who came up with the idea that Mocha fights a dragon. I wrote the story from her point of view because it was her story, and it was fun to be in a dog’s perspective.”

In the story, Mocha jumps into the dragon’s mouth and holds it open so her human can get to safety. Mocha escapes, but not without a couple broken paws. Dragon jaws are strong, after all.

Guy typically writes stories with fantasy elements, so while writing from a dog’s perspective was new, a dragon was somewhat in her wheelhouse. She’s currently writing a historical fantasy piece based on two women who actually existed who dressed as men to fit into society and became pirates — another tale full of heroics, she said. And of course, she’s keeping up with Mocha and the rest of her family on the Drexel therapy dogs' Instagram.

Despite (or thanks to) all the treatments, vet visits and expenses to Erato, Mocha is doing much better these days and is about 14 months old. She had to relearn how to walk, she has some scars and she may never get as big as she should’ve been, but she fought through it.

“At the end of the winning story, there was a part where [I was saying], ‘You’re such a good girl and we’re going to make it through this,’” Erato said. “That really resounded with me, because that’s how I talked to her. I would say, ‘You are strong, you are loved, you are wanted. You are a Drexel Dragon."