The Today Show got an adorable, fuzzy addition to their cast three weeks ago, but “Puppy with a Purpose” Charlie isn’t just there for fun and games.
“We have to remember, he’s not here as a prop for a television show, he’s here because this environment is good and he gets a lot of stimulants,” says anchor Matt Lauer, 58.
Charlie, who turns four months old on Sept. 26, is training for America’s VetDogs, and after spending 16 months learning basic obedience skills and getting used to the fast pace of a daily news show, the black Labrador will be matched with a veteran. He’s the Today Show’s second dog, after golden retriever Wrangler, who just graduated from his Guiding Eyes for the Blind training and is now an active guide dog.
“He’s not just here to hang out, he’s in training,” adds cohost Carson Daly, 43. “But it’s amazing, it’s so great. It’s great for the show, it’s great for all of us, it’s a great cause. It’s such a nice addition to our family.”
The pup was carefully selected at just three weeks old as the perfect dog for the job.
“We would go into the nursery for about an hour each day and spend time with the litter, and starting at three weeks, he was just the puppy that wanted to do everything first, and he was very social and confident, he loved people,” says his trainer, Olivia Poff, 27. “He just had the right personality to step into something of this magnitude.”
Charlie and Poff’s day starts early, with a 3 a.m. wake up call to run around outside and eat breakfast before driving in from Long Island to the Today Show set in Rockefeller Center. Once there, Poff runs him through drills and games, like sitting and retrieving items. And as Charlie grows, so will his skills, and the puppy will eventually learn to push buttons, open refrigerator doors and retrieve items.
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Right now though, he’s mostly enjoying being a pup, and his “morning meetings” with Lauer.
“I come in and figure out which toy is the toy of the day, and I cradle him around the studio,” Lauer says. “At the moment I’m still in the cuddling phase. My favorite thing is to pick him up in the morning like a baby, and I just like to smell him, I like that new puppy smell.”
“We just fight over him,” anchor Savannah Guthrie, 44, adds. “It’s so fun, I mean this is a place where we’re working, and sometimes it’s stressful, but we have a puppy!”
“He gets to be here and we see him everyday, and we get to watch him grow up, and he’s as cute as can possibly be, and just knowing that this is all for a good cause that we can be so excited about and play a little bit of a role – it’s just a win-win-win.”
To learn more about Charlie, Today’s “Puppy with a Purpose,” pick up this week’s copy of PEOPLE magazine, on newsstands now.