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From Puppy Influencers to Furever Friends

Nothing makes you stop and drop everything you’re doing quite like a dog or a puppy strutting down the sidewalk. Make that two puppies with matching blue vests and you might as well cancel my whole afternoon.

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That’s exactly what happened last Wednesday when I was walking down Palafox and stumbled upon Canine Companions Ranger and Bubba with their puppy trainers, Leanne Pickering and Kathryn Daniel. The pairs were hiding Mother’s Day gifts at Doghouse for Elebash Jewelers annual Mother’s Day scavenger hunt.

As you probably already know, Ranger and Bubba are local celebrities around here. Ranger is an influencer for the Pensacola Ice Flyers and Bubba is the newest Blue Wahoos influencer. Yep, in 2023 there is such thing as puppy influencers and Pensacola has two of them!

But what’s the next step of their journey after training? I was curious and actually did end up canceling some of my afternoon to hang with these pups for a little longer.

After hiding their gifts, Leanne, Kathryn, Ranger, Bubba and I stepped next door to visit on of their biggest fans and supporters, Patrick  Elebash. Once at Elebash’s, they gave me the full scoop on what these pups do after graduating from puppy training, and it is pretty remarkable.

Ranger has been in puppy training since December 2021, and is now (he was leaving the very next day!) in Orlando for professional training. After graduating from professional training, he will be placed at his furever home with a person who has a disability.

Canine Companions is the oldest, largest service dog provider in the country and what makes them different is their dogs are completely free! They cover 67 disabilities from Veterans with PTSD, children with autism, people who use wheelchairs, and hearing dogs to name a few.

The organization was started in 1975 when Charles Shultz (yes, the creator of Peanuts!) partnered with them. Now they have six campuses around the country with their headquarters in Santa Rosa, California and the Florida Regional headquarters in Orlando.

“This is a first class organization which is why I volunteer with them. A lot of rules and protocols, and, of course, our dogs are the best!”— Kathryn Daniel, Puppy Raiser, Canine Companions.

Kathryn’s love for Canine Companions began when she did a story on them through her career as a reporter and meteorologist for Channel 3, WEAR Pensacola.

Leanne, on the other hand, is a Canine Companion’s veteran who will be raising her 13th puppy next month. After being with these pups for just an hour, I had a hard time leaving them, so of course I had to ask Leanne and Kathryn what it’s like when your puppy is ready for their next stage of training, I couldn’t imagine it being easy to say goodbye.

“Giving away my first was devastating, but then nine months later I received a phone call. My dog was placed with a little boy who had MD. I got to walk my dog across the stage and hand the leash over and change this child’s life forever.” — Leanne Pickering, Puppy Raiser, Canine Companions.

I was nearly in tears after hearing Leanne’s Canine Companion stories and the lives these incredible dogs have changed.

“It’s hard to let them go on to the next part of training, but once you meet their person they’re going to be with, it is so worth it. This is why we do it. They’re our puppies, but they’re someone else’s dog.”

Check out more information and how you can be involved on their website and join me in saying thank you to the puppy raisers, supporters and adorable pups out there changing lives and bringing happiness into the world.