Good news for all Drexel dog lovers feeling stressed: There’s a new therapy dog on campus and her name is Chai. And when the 4-year-old, 115-pound female purebred Cane Corso isn’t on campus, you can keep up with her life through her Facebook group called Drexel's Therapy Dogs and accounts on Instagram and Snapchat (the username is chaiatdrexel).
Chai officially joined the University at the end of last term. She has already met with Drexel Dragons at campus events and “doggie hours” held at Ross Commons and certain dormitories. Her schedule will be updated on the Facebook group every two weeks or so. As of this summer term, you can find the therapy dog on campus for about 10 hours a week at various times, dates and locations.
“Everyone has been so welcoming to the two of us,” said Janine Erato, Chai’s owner. “It’s exciting to see how happy people are to have a therapy dog back on campus. You can see that the need is there.”
Drexel has a warm and fuzzy history with therapy dogs. In the fall of 2014, Drexel made history with Jersey, an adopted Carolina blend, as the first university in the country whose recreation center hosted an on-site therapy dog year-round. Jersey quickly became a beloved employee adored by the entire Drexel community, but he unfortunately had to leave when his owner, former Drexel staff member Kathryn Formica, found new employment.
Joseph Roche, a freshman entertainment and arts management major in the Westphal College of Arts & Design who had been living with Erato, wanted to help fill the therapy dog-shaped hole in the Drexel community. It wasn’t hard to come up with a solution, considering his family dog, Chai, is a certified therapy dog.
“It was the middle of midterms in spring term and I was stressed out of my mind. I was sitting at my desk with my head on the table and I just thought, ‘I really want to see my dogs right now,’” he said.
Having heard about Jersey’s departure and past Drexel therapy dog events like Puppy Pawlooza, Roche thought Chai could lend a paw. When he reached out to Bryan Ford, assistant athletic director for recreation in Drexel Athletics, he learned that Drexel had been actively searching for a permanent therapy dog. After Chai was brought in for a formal interview, she was officially hired and given a Drexel identification card.
“Upon Kathryn and Jersey’s departure, there was a large void missing in our student wellness programming in rec athletics,” said Ford. “Having a therapy dog on campus is something the students loved, since it created a sense of home. And it’s not just the students, either. Jersey made office visits across campus and helped reduce the stress of faculty and staff, which is just as important for the University.”
Chai is no stranger to college campuses or large crowds. Erato has brought Chai to over 50 events as a therapy dog, including Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania.
She has won awards and certification from the American Kennel Club for her conformation, therapy work and temperament, earning the AKC Canine Good Citizen, AKC Canine Good Citizen Urban and AKC Community Canine titles. Chai can also pull up to 800 pounds and is large enough to have people lay on her.
“Chai is 115 pounds and high as a table, so we call her a dog and a half,” said Erato. “Once people get past the size of her, they normally snuggle up to her,” Erato said.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Chai can respond to basic commands like “sit” or “stay” in American Sign Language. Erato, who works with students who are deaf as part of her full-time job, taught those commands to Chai when the dog was just two months old.
If Chai seems too good to be true, prepare to be astounded: this fall, there just may be two therapy dogs on campus. Chai’s 1.5-year-old daughter Espresso, nicknamed “Essie,” is currently in training to be certified as a therapy dog. Erato hopes to introduce her to the Drexel community in the future.
“It’ll be great to have different dogs at different events,” said Erato. “Chai is a stress buster and loves getting some love and snuggles. Essie is very eager and energetic. She runs off energy and could be brought to events.”
In the meantime, however, be sure to keep up with Chai through social media. And according to Erato, watch out for any notebooks and papers you bring when you meet up with the therapy dog.
“Chai does eat paper sometimes, so she may be able to help if you ever want to claim that a dog ate your homework,” she joked.