21CF Chats: Jennifer Williams brings assistance-dog-in-training Spike to Fox News office

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The executive producer of “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino” talks about her inspiration for raising assistance dogs, what it’s like raising a puppy in the office

If you find yourself around the Fox News studios in New York City, you may see a young Labrador retriever donning a yellow vest. That’s Spike, a three-month-old puppy who’s being raised by “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino” executive producer Jennifer Williams to be an assistance dog. Jennifer is a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that improves the lives of people with disabilities by matching them with trained assistance dogs at no charge.

CCI breeds Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers to become assistance animals. Once a CCI dog turns eight weeks old, it spends 14-18 months with a volunteer raiser, followed by 6-9 months of specialized training with a professional instructor. If training is successfully completed, the dog will be matched with an adult, child or veteran with disabilities; or a professional assisting clients with special needs.

This is Jennifer’s second time raising a puppy for CCI: In 2004, she raised a puppy named Ollie after being inspired by her younger brother, Kyle, who was in an accident and became a paraplegic. “It was his selflessness that inspired me to raise a dog for Canine Companions, and that’s when I started raising Ollie,” Jennifer said. Ollie went to a middle school in Maryland to work with children with disabilities.

I spoke with Jennifer to learn more about her experience raising Spike, who is named after her late brother:

How has raising Spike been different from the time you raised Ollie?
I was a production manager at Fox News back in 2004 when I raised Ollie, my first Canine Companions for Independence puppy. It was a very different job than my current role as executive producer of “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino,” with a lot more travel and often slower work days. Ollie even came to New Hampshire with me for the 2004 New Hampshire primary. My job now, however, is nonstop from 5 a.m. until 3 p.m., kind of like drinking water from a fire hose. It’s much more stressful every day, and higher profile. The good news is Dana is a huge dog lover. She even wrote a book about her dog Jasper! She is incredibly supportive of Spike and me, and Spike has already been to Jasper’s apartment — I mean Dana’s apartment — a couple times for doggie playdates. Also, President of News at Fox News Jay Wallace has been incredibly supportive from the get-go of my “pet project.” Jay knew Ollie and was familiar with the program and is making sure I get whatever help I need. Jay and everyone on the management team have been on board with Spike, and that’s a great feeling.

Do you know what kind of assistance dog Spike will be?
Canine Companions for Independence raises dogs for people with varied physical and/or mental disabilities. He may assist an adult with physical disabilities by performing daily tasks such as opening doors, flipping light switches or picking up things. He might work with a child with physical, cognitive and/or developmental disabilities. CCI also has a hearing program to assist deaf persons and a new program for veterans with PTSD. And some of the pups become facility dogs for, say, a hospital for adults and children with special needs. But only about half of the CCI dogs graduate to such programs — the rest become regular dogs! So first, Spike needs to pass and graduate to advanced training, and it’s during this training that CCI determines the best match for him. Fingers crossed that he passes!

How has it been raising Spike around your Fox News colleagues?
My coworkers have been so great with Spike. Most know that they can’t distract him while he’s “working,” and they always ask me before petting him. Everyone has offered to help walk him or puppy-sit. Dogs cross all boundaries, and people I might not normally talk to approach me because of Spike. I met a photographer from the New York Post and a woman who works at The Wall Street Journal in the lobby of 1211 Avenue of the Americas just because of Spike. He’s really bringing all different parts of the 21CF family together!

How often does Spike get to interact with Persia (the 6-year-old explosives-detecting canine in 1211) or other dogs around the building?
He’s only been at the office maybe 6-7 times, but he loves seeing Persia more than anyone else. Ray, who handles Persia, and the whole building security team have been incredibly receptive and generous with their time with Spike. Spike’s job will be very different from Persia’s, but they are both incredible canines supporting humans — and they’re both dogs and need play time so they can be very focused when they’re working.

What do you think is the biggest benefit or joy of being a volunteer puppy raiser?
More than anything, the joy will be seeing the difference that Spike can make in someone’s life. One of CCI’s mottos is “Raise a puppy, change a life.” These dogs are truly life-changing for someone who needs the love and assistance they can provide. To me, there is no greater joy than changing someone’s life for the better, and that is what Spike can do for someone with special and unique needs. Everyone always asks me how I can give him up once he’s grown. But when you hear stories of the impact one of these dogs can have on someone’s life — that is pure joy.

Do you think you’ll continue raising puppies for CCI?
Yes. This first month with Spike has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and I will definitely do it again someday. I started working with CCI 15 years ago to try to help my brother Kyle, who became a paraplegic after an accident. When my brother died last year from complications from his condition, I decided to raise Spike in his honor (“Spike” was Kyle’s nickname growing up). Spike is now 14 weeks old, and I think we just made it through one of the hardest parts of puppy raising – the first month, and housebreaking him, which is extra challenging living in an apartment building in the city. Many times a day (and night), I’ve been carrying him from my apartment, to the elevator and out to the street to teach him where to pee. My arms look great now after all the puppy curls and pushups! This last month with Spike has been one of the most rewarding of my life, and I will do it again. And maybe – just maybe – I can inspire someone else to raise a puppy and change a life.

Follow updates on Spike’s time in the Fox News offices at his new blog, The Daily Spike. And follow #TheDailySpike on Twitter to stay up-to-date with Spike’s time at Fox News.

Learn how you can get involved with CCI.