This Story was first published in The Times Delphic
Everyone knows his name. His face is plastered on the walls of dorms and offices and the sides of laptops and Hydro Flask bottles. He’s made appearances on national television, and when he steps onto the court of the Knapp Center, the whole crowd cheers.
Not bad for an English bulldog.
That life of fame would be non-existent for Griff II without his owner Erin Bell. For most of its 86 years, Drake’s mascot has been the bulldog, though there was no actual live mascot. Then after winning the 2010 Beautiful Bulldog Contest, Bell’s bulldog, Porterhouse, was embraced by the students and ended up being named the Athletic Department’s mascot.
For five years, Bell, who was a full-time nurse, and her husband volunteered their time to bring him to as many basketball games and other events as they could. Then Porterhouse died unexpectedly.
“He was just part of the culture, part of the university at that point,” Bell said, “After he passed away, the university…really noticed what was missing and wanted to continue that into the future.”
After Porterhouse’s death, Drake University asked Bell to leave her job and start an official live mascot program for the university. She agreed and has run the program ever since, while also owning and taking care of both the original Griff, who served from 2015 to 2020 and Griff II, whose actual name is George.
The live mascot program has become a major part of the university’s marketing and recruitment efforts. Bell works with admissions staff to give opportunities for potential students to meet Griff II when they visit the campus.
“Very few schools have a mascot that’s so deeply interwoven in the brand, the experience, the promotion and the visit and ultimately, their Drake journey. It’s so unique,” said Associate Director of Admissions Deenen Dygert.
The job is not your standard 9-to-5 in an office. Griff II is constantly moving between different events, coming in on nights, weekends and occasionally traveling out of state. Which means Bell is, too.
“Every day is different. Our schedule is never, never the same,” Bell said.
After attending hundreds, if not thousands, of events with her dogs throughout the last 13 years, she has yet to get tired of the chaos. For Bell, the thing that keeps her coming back each day is the students and their love for her dog, which she refers to as “their dog.”
That dog can put a smile on a face or be a needed comfort in difficult times. Bell has gotten Porterhouse, Griff and Griff II all certified as therapy dogs. Prior to his campus fame, Bell would take Porterhouse to volunteer at hospitals, and in 2018, when a first-year student died in Stalnaker Hall, she put Griff’s skills to use.
“That was a very hard time for everybody and I took him to that dorm, like the day after, to just be there with students and, and it had a really positive impact,” Bell said. “Some of my favorite times are when he…does good in difficult times.”
That strong desire to help others becomes very clear when talking with Bell. For her, the hardest part of the job is having to say no to organizations requesting Griff II to attend their events.
Last year, Bell hired sophomore Nate Eisenmann as the live mascot program’s intern, where he has gained the informal title of “Grifftern.” Over that year, he has seen how hard Bell works to get Griff II at as many events and with as many students as possible.
“I think Erin is one of the most genuinely nice and kind people I’ve met on Drake’s campus,” Eisenmann said. “She’s been an amazing person to have in my life as I’m here at Drake and hours away from my family.”