Wrangler, the TODAY Show's "Puppy With A Purpose" has graduated to full-on guide dog status.
In January of 2015, Wrangler, a 10-week-old yellow Lab puppy, joined the cast of the TODAY Show. Wrangler's 14-month residency on the set was the result of a partnership between the TODAY Show cast and crew, nonprofit organization Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and dog handler Saxon Eastman.
During his time on set, Wrangler was exposed to the sights and sounds of the world, and learned to socialize and interact with a variety of different people and situations in preparation for the next phase of his guide dog training.
In March, Wrangler left the TODAY Show and went on to complete his training. He passed his final blindfold test in August.
Today, Wrangler is a guide dog for University of Santa Clara music professor, Bill Stevens. Stevens, who has been legally blind since birth, has been using guide dogs for the past 17 years. Three of those dogs have come from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Stevens says he and Wrangler bonded instantly.
"We're in my room in Guiding Eyes that first night, and then Wrangler is licking my face and then a paw in my lap, and another paw on my shoulder...And he's just trying to knock me over backward with face kisses! So we hit the bond quickly," Stevens told TODAY.
Fortunately for Stevens, a jazz pianist and educator, Wrangler is a jazz fan thanks to the exposure he got to music while on the set of TODAY.
"It's great to have a dog that's really comfortable with music," says Stevens. He's even considering having Wrangler present during performances, which is not something he's tried with his previous guide dogs.
Wrangler's day-to-day will consist of helping Stevens make his way around campus, including trips to the pool, as Stevens is an avid swimmer.
Stevens and Wrangler are well on their way to a long, fulfilling partnership.
"Having a dog is very liberating, and it's liberating in the context of companionship...It's a beautiful thing," says Stevens.
Want to know more? You can look back on Wrangler's time with TODAY here.
All photos by Samantha Okazaki/TODAY.
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