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Campus & Community

Employee Spotlight: Java, Drexel’s Newest Therapy Dog

October 17, 2019

19-month-old Java.
Java is a 19-month-old Cane Corso and a Drexel celebrity.

First came Chai, then Espresso and, most recently, Java.

Three generations of therapy dogs — all named after beverage treats— are now Drexel University employees, after grandson Java joined his mother Espresso and his grandmother Chai in providing support (and cuddles, and lots and lots of selfies) to Drexel Dragons.

The Cane Corso therapy dog dynasty expanded this term when Java officially continued the family tradition of working as a Drexel Recreation Athletics employee. After completing his training and obtaining his therapy dog certificate this summer, he was hired by the University. To ease the “ruff” transition and prepare for the upcoming academic year, he spent some time sniffing around the city and all of the University’s campuses, getting used to meeting all sorts of different people and visiting Drexel buildings (the Drexel Recreation Center is the family favorite!).

His first official event was one of the biggest and busiest held at Drexel during the year — Move-In Weekend — and he hasn’t slowed down since.

Java was unable to be interviewed, so all questions were answered by Janine Erato, his handler.

From left to right: Java, Espresso and Chai.
From left to right: Java, Espresso and Chai.

“He’s very excited to be here,” she said.

The “paw-pose” of bringing a therapy dog (or three) to Drexel is to soothe and bring joy to Dragons and help students transition to college life — and all of its complexities and stressors — while getting a new “leash” on life. The outreach, program and number of dogs has grown exponentially, expanding from one dog to three (plus two humans) and from covering one campus to all three campuses.

Erato has been at Drexel since she and Chai were hired here in 2016 as part of a package deal (which was extended to Espresso, who also goes by “Essie,” 2 1/2 years ago, and then Java as well). The opportunity at the University came about when she was volunteered (or, as her husband Chuck joked, “voluntold”) by Joseph Roche ’19, who was then a first-year entertainment and arts management student who had been living with the Eratos, to bring the already-certified Chai to Drexel as a therapy dog. By the time Roche graduated and left campus, Java was embarking on his journey to be hired at the University. 

Now 19 months old, Java weighs 125 pounds and is still growing. He is full of what Erato calls “puppy exuberance” and “puppy energy.” But he doesn’t quite look like a puppy. In fact, his five-year-old mother Espresso is frequently mistaken for her son, since she is the smallest of the bunch.

She was unable to comment on how that makes her feel.

Java has distinguished himself as the only male dog of the household, Erato said.

“Of the four boys in Espresso’s litter, he had the confidence, structure and temperament we like for all the different things we do with the dogs,” she explained.  

Java and his official Drexel collar.
Java and his official Drexel collar.

More importantly, Java has made a name for himself not just at Drexel — but in the entire country.

He was the first large-breed dog in North America to get his Lure Chasing Instinct title, for which he had to complete eight qualifying single stake runs judged by the American Sighthound Field Association. For that, Java was judged in enthusiasm, follow, speed, agility and endurance when running a distance between 650 to 900 yards.

“Java is definitely my distance runner. He loves long-distance runs,” said Erato, who added that the puppy can run up to a half a mile two times a day and will sometimes be driven to run and practice at specific courses.

In his free time, Java also weight pulls and is learning to swim. His favorite toy is a Jolly ball, which is an indestructible toy that he loves to fetch.

Currently, Java, Espresso and seven-year-old Chai work at Drexel for about 12 hours a week — every week, and not just around midterms and finals. Members of the pack appear at all of the events and open hours on all three campuses — which is usually at night or on the weekend, since Erato works full-time during the day and fits day hours in when she can around her other job.

From left to right: Java, Janine Erato, Espresso, Chai and Mallika Kodavatiganti.
From left to right: Java, Janine Erato, Espresso, Chai and Mallika Kodavatiganti.

Visits can be arranged for students as well as faculty and staff at no cost, since the dogs are all Drexel employees (email drexeltherapydogs@drexel.edu for event requests).

The dogs also have an intern, fourth-year biology student Mallika Kodavatiganti from the College of Arts and Sciences, who helps Erato schedule events and helps maintain the dogs’ popular Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat (username: chaiatdrexel) accounts. The social media accounts are used to update followers on when and where to find the dogs, and also share fetching photographs and news to brighten what could have been a dimmer day.

That’s part of the reason why Java has been a Drexel celebrity since before he was born.

“Drexel students and staff truly view Java as their own,” said Erato. “They watched while Espresso was pregnant, saw our agony of choosing the right puppy, waited to make sure the surgery for Java’s cherry eyes went well, watched him grow and helped train him — and then rejoiced when he was finally able to join the team.”

Keep an eye out for the dogs on campus — you’ll definitely know it’s them when you see them, or at least their Drexel-branded leashes and their DragonCards. And there will probably be a crowd surrounding the dogs, with people petting them, taking pictures or even just smiling at them.  

After all, these dogs are a Dragon’s best friends!

The offical University ID cards for each of the staff members.
The offical University ID cards for each of the staff members.

In addition to meeting with Dragons at events or open hours, the therapy dogs are now capable of hosting their own get-togethers. The first was last March, when they hosted a stress-buster event (funded by donations) in memory of Ryan Cornelius, who was a 33-year-old 2012 graduate from the LeBow College of Business. Their next event will be held on Oct. 28 at 10 a.m. at the Queen Lane Campus. Then, Dragons can make dog toys to donate to a local shelter and snack on food and drinks — and hang out with Chai, Espresso and Java, of course.

Other upcoming events where Dragons could meet Java include Student Life’s Warriors for Wellness event on Nov. 5 at 3 p.m., a hangout session at Three Parkway Building on the Center City Campus on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. and, for students, some dormitories are making requests for end-of-term events.

Going forward, Erato and company hope to do more hours per week to better meet the needs of staff and students on all three campuses, especially at the Center City Campus and Queen Lane Campus.

“We love Drexel and what we do here,” she said.

This story was published in the fall 2019 issue of Drexel Quarterly.