Alumna Lisa Tell with dog Cori at the stadium

Alumna Lisa Tell with her dog, Cori, the new kickoff dog (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

UC Davis Has a New Kickoff Dog

by | Sep 20, 2022 | Animal Science, Sports

Lisa Tell ’87, DVM ’91, may be an expert in hummingbird health, but she’s quickly learning the ins and outs of working dogs — and football.

Tell, a professor of medicine and epidemiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine who also studies drug residue avoidance in food animals, is the owner and trainer of Cori, a 2½-year-old Labrador retriever trotting onto the field to fetch the tee after every Aggie kickoff this season.

“It makes people smile, and she loves it,” Tell said.

Cori continues a fan-favorite tradition started by Pint, a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever who retrieved 284 kickoff tees from 2012 until last year. Pint is “definitely slowing down” but is enjoying retirement, owner and veterinary medicine professor Danika Bannasch said.

Cori made her first appearance in Saturday’s 43-13 win over the University of San Diego, and a local television reporter who attended the game noted that 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.”

Giving back

Training Cori is a big time commitment — Tell said she is always looking for new ways to keep the dog engaged, like learning dock jumping or fetching baseball bats in case she can one day become a two-sport dog — but Tell said she doesn’t mind.

Black lab Cori with two footballs on a field

Cori, the new kickoff dog (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“I really love UC Davis — it’s a great school,” Tell said. “It’s a way of giving back. I’m happy to make the time commitment.”

In fact, Tell flew all the way to Idaho to get Cori, who had initially trained for retriever field trial competitions but hadn’t quite made the cut.

“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.”

Tell said she still needs to learn more about the rules of football and frequently attends the team’s morning practices with Cori, who has already retrieved tees at some Davis High School football games this season.

At Saturday’s UC Davis home opener, Gomez made his placement of the kickoff tee very obvious and deliberate to help Cori spot the small item, 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.”

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.

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.

Tell has printed stickers and magnets featuring Cori — wearing a veterinary medicine bandana — in photos taken by her husband, recently retired veterinary medicine photographer Don Preisler. She plans to hand them out at public events with Cori — not only games, but also fan events and other occasions. Cori also has an Instagram page to connect with fans. 

Saturday Game Day Events

The Aggies’ next home game is this Saturday (Sept. 24) vs. Weber State, featuring Cori and a lot more: