“She and I kind of brainstormed ideas to have him at practices, to have him on tutoring during study hall time. You know, if the teams wanted us to come, we were going to go,” she said. “We’re here for whatever they need.”
Sanders’ husband is George Gelnovatch, Virginia’s head men’s soccer coach.
“George and I have been talking about this for a long time, that it would be great to have a service dog here,” she said, “because not only is it great for socialization, for the pup and for the dogs in assistance, but it’s great for student-athletes too. We have athletes who are in a large academic institution, but they are also in a large sports institution. This is accompanied by a lot of stress and anxiety. And, you know, what a great place to train a service dog and also be here for student-athletes.
Champ will be with Missi for about a year before undergoing advanced training.
“My job as a puppy raiser is to socialize and teach basic cues, like ‘sit,’ ‘down,’ and ‘stay,'” she said.
This socialization aspect is why people are allowed to pet and play with Champ right now, while he is a puppy. Once placed in a home, whether to help someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or autism, Champ will have a full-time job and uninvited patting on the head is discouraged.
“As Missy said, every dog has its own personality, and this one seems pretty chill,” Gelnovatch said. “We had feral puppies in our house.”
Gelnovatch discovered that training a service dog and training collegiate athletes share some commonalities.
“As a top trainer, you can appreciate all the training time and what is asked of these dogs,” he said. “It’s elite-level training, and it’s a long process. The resources needed to train these dogs to the level they need to reach are similar to training athletes over years and years. It’s an elite level.