Olivia Poff is a familiar face for TODAY viewers. She’s in the Orange Room everyday alongside our puppy, Charlie. But that’s just the start of Olivia’s job with America’s VetDogs. As Charlie’s puppy raiser, she’s teaching him how to be a service dog for a U.S. veteran. Here she reflects on her time raising our little puppy with a purpose.
Being a puppy raiser is a title on my life resume I list with pride. Puppy raising involves picking up an outrageously cute 8-week-old puppy and preparing that pup for a career as an assistance dog for someone in need. When the dog is ready, at approximately 14 months, I send the dog off to doggy college.
And though I was prepared to teach puppies a lot, I didn’t realize what I’d learn about myself in return along the way.
Capture the moments.
As a puppy raiser, your days with that cute little superhero are clearly numbered. It inspires you to take pictures, capture videos and make notes of funny things that happen. Documentation in any form – whether that’s journaling, photography or a quick line or two in the “Notes” section of your iPhone –can make it easier to remember and relive all the moments that got you to where you are now.
It’s how you respond that matters.
When working with a live animal, you’re bound to find yourself in situations that don’t go according to plan. That little puppy is only going to need a trip to the vet when you already have 87 other things to do that day. You are going to find yourself in the dead center of a large mall when the puppy alerts you that nature is calling. Stuff happens. Every day. To everyone. What matters is how your respond. For me, that means laughter and a lot of humility!
As a puppy raiser, I’m tasked with the responsibility of socializing the puppy with everything the world has to offer. When the puppy receives early exposure to diverse environments, he or she will be able to think and perform best as a professional working dog down the road. This aspect of the puppy raising role has encouraged me to engage with more people, say yes to as many unique opportunities as I possibly can and generally try new things. In shaping the confidence and character of the puppies I raise, I have loved learning to do the same for myself.
Saying goodbye is not all bad.
Predictably, one of the hardest parts of puppy raising is the day you say goodbye to the puppy you have incorporated into each element of each day for over a year’s time. But everything you put into the dog and everything the dog gave to you gets to take new form. I’ve learned to look forward when life calls for it, and to reflect on my accomplishments with pride.
Serving others serves you well.
I’ve learned through puppy raising just how good it can feel to sacrifice something you love and treasure for the interest of someone else. The first puppy I raised grew up to assist an incredible Marine veteran. Seeing them together as a working team for the first time was unlike any other life experience I have ever had. A little bit of my heart will forever beat within that team, and I sure am proud of that. About a year into that partnership I learned that the fluffy puppy I raised not only improved the Marine’s life, but saved it.