UVA Athletics and Service Dogs of Virginia partner to raise puppy, Champ

Service Dogs of Virginia's new puppy, Champ
Service Dogs of Virginia's new puppy, Champ(wvir)
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 6:31 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - All eyes are on one first year student-athlete at the University of Virginia, because he comes from Service Dogs of Virginia.

Champ is only 12 weeks old, but the Labrador Retriever already has a big role to fill.

“Champ is going to be an elite athlete,” SDV Executive Director Peggy Law said. “He is going to be a highly-developed dog who will be able to perform acts for his client to make their life better.”

Law is helping to train Champ over the next two years so he is ready to help those in need.

“Our clients are people with disabilities who want to live life to the fullest, but they find that they can do it a whole lot better with a service dog. So they they also become part of a team,” she said.

Champ is part of of a team working with UVA Athletics. Missi Sanders is his puppy raiser and the mind behind this partnership. She’s been a volunteer puppy raiser before with the non-profit. Her husband is the coach of UVA Men’s Soccer, and together they’re taking care of Champ.

“The University area, the Athletic Department, and Grounds as a whole is a great place to socialize dogs to be service dogs,” Sanders said.

While prepping to be a service dog, Champ will be on UVA Grounds to help students’ mental and physical health. While he’s helping students, they will be also be helping him get his people skills up to speed and ready for being a service dog.

“Maybe they’re taking finals,” Sanders said. “Maybe homesick and miss their dogs. So he’s going to be helping them with some anxiety and stuff like that.”

Ellen Cook works with student development with UVA Athletics. She says Champ has already visited some teams, like men’s soccer, and he’s making his positive mark on Grounds. While he’s the start of the UVA Athletics and Service Dogs of Virginia partnership, Cook says it probably won’t be the end of it.

“The student-athletes love Champ, the staff love Champ, everyone who’s gotten to meet him, it just makes them feel so much better throughout the day. It’s a great dose of serotonin,” Ellen Cook said. “The hope is that this will be a partnership for many years to come. Where once Champ has hopefully graduated from his training, we’ll have more service dogs.”

Sanders and Law say the University’s relationship with the non-profit is crucial and they hope it aids in exposure and funding for Service Dogs of Virginia. The dogs they provide to those in need are free, which means they need all the support they can get to keep doing the work they do.

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