Fourth Therapy Dog Begins Training to Be a Drexel Dragon

The University’s family of Cane Corso therapy dogs is getting bigger, with another pup preparing for certification to work alongside cousin Java, aunt Espresso and grandmother Chai.
Starting clockwise from standing dog: Espresso (standing), Chai, Mocha Latte and Java (lying down). Photo courtesy Janine Erato.
Starting clockwise from standing dog: Espresso (standing), Chai, Mocha Latte and Java (lying down). Photo courtesy Janine Erato

…And baby Mocha Latte makes four — or will make four, once the five-month Cane Corso passes the certification test to become a therapy dog at Drexel University. The goal is to have that happen next year, but until then, the excitable pup will train on Drexel’s campuses so she can eventually work alongside cousin Java, aunt Espresso and grandmother Chai.

“Last month, I brought Mocha Latte to the Drexel Recreation Center [where Java, Espresso and Chai are officially employed] to meet the staff first. It was her first time meeting people outside of our household!” said Janine Erato, who is the handler for all the dogs. “Because she had not met other people before, she was unsure at first but then started licking everyone.”

Mocha Latte — who also goes by Mocha, or nicknames “Drama Momma” and “Mocha Moo” — is the first of Drexel’s therapy dogs to start training on campus before certification, rather than spending those hours of preparation off-site.  

“She has been on campus to start meeting students and getting comfortable with all the campus activity,” said Erato. “Everyone has been supportive with her training by waiting to meet her until she moves to meet them, feeding her to help her understand everyone is friendly and asking her to do some basic commands such as ‘sit’ or ‘down.’”

A family tree showing how grandmother Chai, daughter Espresso, grandson Java and granddaughter Mocha Latte are related.

When Mocha finally joins Drexel, she will be the fourth member of a historic dynasty. While some colleges and universities across the country employ one or more therapy dogs, Drexel holds the unique distinction of having not just multiple therapy dogs, but multiple therapy dogs from one family. It’s something that Erato has steadily been working towards since she and Chai started working at Drexel in 2016, with Chai’s daughter Espresso joining in 2017 and Espresso’s son Java in 2019.

Another way they’re keeping things all in the family: the drink names. Each litter of Cane Corsos is named with one letter of the alphabet — Chai was part of the “c” litter, Espresso the “e” litter and Java the “j” litter. Surprise: Mocha Latte is actually part of the “l” litter.  

“When we were looking at ‘c’ names, we had a huge list, but chai is my favorite drink. My daughter jokingly said we should name her ‘Chai!’ It stuck,” remembered Erato. “After that, we deliberately looked only at coffee and tea names for our pack.”

With Mocha’s training starting in August and the new academic year beginning at the end of September, Erato has been bringing the dogs to campus on Mondays for office hours on the third floor of the Rec Center. She brought Java and Mocha to the Queen Lane Campus during the College of Medicine’s orientation week during the first week of August. For the fall term, she’s already working with several campus organizations to partner on activities.

Mocha relaxing at home. Photo courtesy Janine Erato.
Mocha relaxing at home. Photo courtesy Janine Erato.

“Since we are on campus often, I usually bring one or two dogs with me,” said Erato. “Sometimes I feel like I am taking whichever dog gets to the door first, but in reality, there is logic to my decision-making process. For example, Espresso is perfect for doing campus walks because she has tons of energy. Recently, we were at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships where children read to Drexel’s therapy dog; Chai snuggled up with a stuffed animal and enjoyed every minute of it. Java likes indoor events because bicycles zooming by worry him. And for now, Mocha is just working on meeting a few people at a time and learning we have a huge Drexel family!”

Off-campus, you can see what the dogs are doing through updates on their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat (username: chaiatdrexel) accounts. Students, faculty and professional staff can also email for event appearances and meet-and-greet requests with organizations, departments, offices and other Drexel entities.

After originally starting at Drexel seven years ago with the encouragement of Joseph Roche ’19, who was living with the Erato family, Erato is proud of her time at the University with the dogs. She’s gone from spending six to eight hours a week on Drexel’s three campuses with Chai to over 20 hours a week with four dogs, with many community outreach events and interns helping to grow the therapy dog program. She’s also thankful for what she says has been an “overwhelming response” to having the dogs become part of the University community.

“The moments that stand out the most are the ones that were more impactful than I knew,” said Erato. “For example, a student was finding it challenging to make connections on campus. We talked about what worked in high school and ways to connect on campus. Weeks later, a thankful mom reached out to let me know that connections were made, and the student was thriving — I appreciated the update. The other stories that mean the most are just like that: a ripple effect of knowing that the times spent playing with the dogs helped students de-stress before a test or eased pain after a breakup. Sometimes our biggest impact is when we don’t know we are making one, and that’s okay.”