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ODU has a new puppy mascot: Meet Hudson

Virginian-Pilot
Virginian-Pilot
 2022-08-12

When it comes right down to it, Old Dominion’s players didn’t pick their newest mascot.

The mascot picked them.

Early this month, when staffers from the nonprofit Mutts With a Mission brought seven or eight nearly identical puppies to the Monarchs’ weight room, many players posed for pictures holding the dogs.

When the photo session ended, the puppies scurried back to the safety of their handler.

But one kept his paws on the ground.

That’s when ODU’s players and coaches knew that the puppy, soon to be named “Hudson,” was the right one.

“Hudson stood right there next to our guys,” Monarchs coach Ricky Rahne said, “so he already knew he was with us. It was a cool deal.”

Hudson, a plush, light-brown, 9-week-old yellow lab, will spend time around the team as Mutts With a Mission’s staff trains him elsewhere to be a service dog for a disabled veteran or a first responder. ODU plans to have formal access to Hudson for about a year and a half, after which, having been fully trained, he will be placed in a permanent home.

The puppy currently lives with his temporary handler, but his regular presence at the team’s L.R. Hill Sports Complex is already making a difference.

“I love Hudson,” said junior wide receiver Ali Jennings. “As soon as he walks in the room, he brightens everybody’s day. Everybody just smiles.”

That’s the idea, and it’s why Rahne and his wife, Jennifer, arranged to hook up the program with Mutts With a Mission as part of his Father’s Day gift.

The couple paid to get Hudson vaccinated, and they continue to pay to feed him as he trains for a big-boy job while entertaining football players.

Rahne plans to have Hudson at games — “as many as he can possibly make,” he said. It’s rumored that the pup could be trained to retrieve the tee after kickoffs.

Senior linebacker Ryan Henry wasn’t present the day his teammates picked Hudson, but it worked out.

“I like the dog we chose real good,” Henry said. “He seems fun.”

Hudson’s name is a nod to two things unique to ODU. The light blue in the team’s color scheme is called Hudson blue, which is named after retired longtime sports information director Carol Hudson.

Asked whether Hudson might be able to help the team on the field, Jennings laughed. There hasn’t been this much new dog talk around a football program since the invention of the pooch punt.

“I hope so,” Jennings said. “He might be out there having to make some plays, like ‘Air Bud’ or something.”

Just making players and coaches happy is a much more likely scenario, and Hudson is well on his way to that. Last week, he was a hit at his first team meeting, and Rahne hopes it’s a long-term relationship.

Rahne said that once Hudson is placed and is no longer officially affiliated with the team, he plans to ask the new owner to continue to bring him around.

That’s fine with the players, who gave a consensus thumbs-up to the pup. He can turn a 325-pound lineman to putty before bounding gleefully to the next one.

“I like the idea of having a little team dog,” junior running back Blake Watson said.

“Everybody just clicked with Hudson,” added Jennings. “Hudson’s that guy.”

Mutts With a Mission trains service dogs — at a cost of about $60,000 each — over an 18-month period to perform tasks ranging from retrieving items by name and helping their handlers stand up to medication reminders and turning on the lights.

The organization then provides the trained dogs at no cost to the handler.

It’s funded through charitable efforts; a tax document on Mutts With a Mission’s website reports contributions and grants totaling nearly $3.5 million in 2020.

Hudson’s presence could have an unforeseen effect. The Rahnes own two dogs, and the third-year coach isn’t looking to own another one — even if his wife’s lobbying has gone up a notch.

“I’ve said no about 422 times,” Rahne said. “I don’t know how many I’ve got left in me, and I think she knows that. So it’s a battle of attrition, which we all know she will win.”

Besides, to Rahne, there’s something inherently refreshing about the presence of a new dog, as his players are learning.

“It’s awesome, right?” Rahne said. “Everybody loves puppies, right? I mean, who doesn’t love a puppy?”

David Hall, david.hall@pilotonline.com

How to help

Hampton Roads-based Mutts With a Mission relies on donations to meet its goal of providing specially trained service dogs to disabled veterans and disabled first responders. In addition to financial donations, the organization accepts toys, treats, equipment and more. To make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.muttswithamission.org .

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