A fan-favorite tradition is back for another season of Aggie football, with a new dog trotting onto the field to retrieve the kickoff tee.
Cori, a 2½-year-old Labrador retriever, made her first appearance in Saturday’s 43-13 win over the University of San Diego, fetching the tee after every Aggie kickoff.
“It makes people smile and she loves it,” said Lisa Tell ’87, DVM ’91, a professor of medicine and epidemiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine. She is an expert in hummingbird health and drug residue avoidance in food animals, and said she is happy to continue a relationship between the veterinary school and Intercollegiate Athletics.
Cori is taking over tee-retrieval duties from Pint, a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever who retrieved 284 kickoff tees from 2012 until last year. He is “definitely slowing down” but is enjoying retirement, owner and veterinary medicine professor Danika Bannasch said.
When Tell heard that Pint planned to retire, another colleague suggested Tell volunteer her dog Lilli, an English cream golden retriever training as a comfort animal. Tell sought the opinion of Britta Closson of Boise, Idaho-based Positive Pets Dog Training, who said Lilli was very skilled but lacked the drive needed for the job. Instead, she suggested Cori, who had been initially trained in Idaho by Brea Witt of Raise ‘Em Right Retrievers for retriever field trial competitions but hadn’t quite made the cut.
Tell flew out to meet her, and instantly felt a connection.
CORI AND MORE THIS SATURDAY
The Aggies’ next home game is this Saturday (Sept. 24) vs. Weber State, featuring Cori and a whole lot more:
- Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day, entitling faculty and staff to two free tickets each. Get them by clicking here and entering Promo Code STAFFAGGIES.
- Dedication at 4 p.m. of the Edwards Family Athletics Center, located between UC Davis Health Stadium at the Bob Biggs Practice Field. Self-guided tours will follow the ceremony.
- Staff Assembly Tailgate starts at 4:30 p.m. on the Bob Biggs Practice Field.
- Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tickets are available online, by phone and in person at the stadium.
“Within 24 hours she knew I was her person and I knew she was my dog,” Tell said.
She brought Cori home to join the rest of her animals — three parrots, one cat, three other dogs and a desert tortoise — and got to work training her to run onto the field and find and retrieve the black plastic tee.
Tell worked with the football team over the summer, purchasing the same kind of tee that senior human development major and kicker Isaiah Gomez uses, so she could practice with them at home.
“I feel like we’ve connected very well,” Gomez said of Cori, noting her similarity to a pair of twin black Labradors he had growing up. “I don’t have to do anything — she does it all on her own.”
Training a dog to retrieve a kickoff tee can be tough — games are noisy and the small tee can be hard to spot from a dog’s low vantage point. To help, Cori is trained to run in the direction Tell’s feet are pointing, and Tell can issue commands for Cori to expand her search in a specific direction if she has trouble finding the tee.
Tell and Cori frequently attend the team’s morning practices, and have retrieved tees at some Davis High School football games this season.
At Saturday’s UC Davis home opener, Gomez exaggerated his movements as he placed the kicking tee, to help Cori spot it, Tell said.
“As soon as she saw him, she totally locked in on him and the tee,” Tell said Monday, calling it a “terrific weekend.”
A local television reporter who attended the game said Cori “got the loudest cheers of the night.”
Tell said she appreciated the enthusiasm from the record crowd of 14,394 people, which included nearly 11,000 students.
“The students were great,” Tell said. “They were chanting her name but that did not deter her.”
Tell praised not only Cori’s drive and skill, but her friendly demeanor. When a staff member’s young child was drawn to Cori after a recent practice, Cori gently greeted the toddler.
“It’s a privilege for me to work with a dog like this,” Tell said.
She said Cori has a strong drive when working but is “super laid back” at home. Cori also helps out around the home: Tell has positional vertigo and can become disoriented when bending over to pick things up off the ground; Cori is able to pick up any small items she drops.
“She is literally a family member to us, so having traits that fit well within the household are really important,” Tell said.
Cori’s public-facing duties have already turned her into an unofficial mascot for both the team and the School of Veterinary Medicine — a connection that is a source of pride for both entities.
“We all believe dogs are such an important part of people’s lives,” said Amy Kapatkin, a professor of orthopedic surgery in the veterinary medicine school and the one who suggested Tell look into having her dog retrieve tees. “Pint and now Cori highlight how versatile dogs are as well as how they can be trained to do many things and are wonderful companions. It is a special way that the vet school contributes to the school’s spirit.”
Tell has printed stickers and magnets featuring Cori — wearing a veterinary medicine bandanna — in photos taken by her husband, recently retired veterinary medicine photographer Don Preisler. She plans to hand them out at public events Cori attends — not only games, but also fan events and other occasions. Cori also has an Instagram page to connect with fans.
Tell said she doesn’t mind the time commitment to train Cori and keep her engaged and entertained (she is teaching Cori to jump from docks and recently tried having her retrieve baseball bats in the event she could one day become a two-sport dog). Tell is no stranger to attending athletic competitions, having raised two sons who played water polo and ran cross country, and said she finds working with Cori easier!
“It’s like attending sports events again, it’s just that I’m doing it with the dog now.”
Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.