Each year, State National’s SNCares charitable committee selects local nonprofits to assist as part of Markel’s Community Grants initiative. To help determine where grant funds should be allocated, the committee periodically surveys employees about the causes and organizations that matter most to them to determine focus areas for grant distribution.
Many of our colleagues express a special passion for animal-related charities, as well as nonprofits that assist veterans and those with physical and mental disabilities. That's one reason why, in 2021, SNCares chose to partner with Canine Companions to sponsor Tracker, an adorable golden retriever/lab mix puppy who has grown into a 75-pound "student" with a lot of love to share.
This is Tracker's story!
Canine Companions: Changing Lives, One Service Dog at a Time
So, what does Canine Companions do? They’re a national nonprofit organization that is leading the service dog mission. Headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, and with six training centers across the country, they have been transforming lives since 1975.
Service dogs can have a profound impact on the lives of individuals living with disabilities. While we often think of dogs as our faithful companions, these special canines go above and beyond simply being “man’s best friend."
Service dogs from Canine Companions help both children and adults with a variety of physical and/or cognitive disabilities. They support their owners with everyday tasks like walking, opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off — activities of daily living that many of us take for granted.
A service dog can pull their partner in a manual wheelchair, alert to the sound of a doorbell, push buttons for elevators or automatic doors, and even assist with business transactions by transferring money, receipts, and packages. Service dogs for U.S. Armed Forces veterans with PTSD are also trained in tasks including anxiety and nightmare interruption and supporting their handler in crowded public situations.
The Making of a Service Dog: Tracker’s Training Adventure
When we partnered with Canine Companions, State National employees eagerly awaited the arrival of our sponsored puppy. As part of our sponsorship, we had the privilege of choosing our puppy’s name, so SNCares formed a special "puppy committee" and conducted a company-wide puppy-naming survey to choose the perfect name.
After receiving a plethora of creative suggestions, we landed on our winning name — Tracker. We think it's not only a great name for a dog, but also a fitting tie to State National’s industry-leading InsurTrak tracking system!
We all cheered when Tracker was finally born on April 16, 2022. For the first six weeks of his life, this fuzzy little newborn was cared for by at the main Canine Companions campus in California. Then, he flew to Texas to join the care team at the Irving, TX-based Canine Companions campus.
Enter dedicated Canine Companions volunteer Michelle Sudduth, who cared for him locally in her North Texas home as his "puppy raiser." During this phase, Michelle nurtured Tracker, teaching him essential commands and bringing him out into the world to socialize with people and other dogs. From running errands to playtime, Tracker's days were filled with learning and affection.
Pawsitive Encounters: Tracker Visits State National!
At just six months old, Tracker made his debut visit to State National headquarters in October 2022. It was so exciting to meet him, and despite his young age he impressed us all with his command-following skills and the progress he had already made. We played fetch, showered him with his favorite treats, and gave him plenty of belly rubs. Tracker's charm won over everyone's hearts!
Tracker's Impact Behind Bars
Because of his outstanding progress in the program, Tracker was chosen to be a part of the Canine Companions Prison Puppy Raising Program. The program not only gives inmates valuable dog-training skills for future employment, it also provides them with a sense of purpose, companionship, and leadership.
Being chosen as a puppy raiser is considered a special honor, and inmate response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive; in fact, there’s a waiting list to join at the correctional facilities participating. In addition to a measurable reduction in recidivism for inmates in the program, puppies raised through the program graduate at a 10% higher rate than their puppy peers.
During this time, Tracker's puppy-raising was shared between his caregiver Michelle and an inmate at Carswell Female Federal Prison in Fort Worth, a low-security facility for non-violent inmates. Altogether, Tracker and his caretakers spent countless hours working on basic commands, socializing, grooming, and of course, playing. The bonds they formed and the impact they made on each other will not only stay with them for the rest of their lives but also carry positive ripples forward into the lives of many others.
After months of hard work and dedication, in August 2023 Tracker proudly completed the puppy training phase of his journey and walked the stage with his classmates to receive his diploma as his caretakers and State National friends cheered him on.
“Tracker has grown into an amazing boy. He has always been sweet and smart but as he has matured he has become so gentle, loving, intuitive, and still the happiest guy around. I'm so proud of him and all the hard work he's already done.”
~ Michelle Sudduth, Tracker’s puppy raiser
But the journey doesn't stop there — Tracker is now in the service dog training segment of his program. Over the next six to nine months, he will be immersed in learning advanced commands and perfecting his skills with Canine Companions’ expert trainers. This intensive training will prepare him for his future role as a loyal companion and helper.
Once Tracker completes his professional training, he will be paired with his future owner through an extensive matching process. To ensure a successful partnership, together they will undergo a two-week training process at a Canine Companions campus, where the recipient will get to know their new four-legged friend and learn how to work together effectively.
This incredible journey will culminate with Tracker's final diploma ceremony, marking the beginning of his mission with his new best friend.
Tracker’s Paw Print on State National
Tracker has grown to become a cherished member of the State National family as we have watched him grow and learn. To celebrate his 1st birthday, we threw a special party to celebrate and applaud the milestones he’s reached throughout his training journey.
Tracker's story is a testament to the incredible work done by Canine Companions and the impact that a service dog can have on individuals and communities. We have learned so much about the positive effects a service dog can have on someone’s life and are so thrilled to be a part of Tracker's journey.
Watching Tracker grow has been an immense pleasure for all of us at State National. The joy he brings to our lives is just a glimpse of the happiness he will offer his future companion. We eagerly await updates from Tracker’s caretakers as he continues to learn and prepare for his fur-ever home.
If you are inspired by Tracker's story and would like to support Canine Companions, you can get involved by volunteering or donating to help those with disabilities gain greater independence.
For future updates on Tracker's progress, follow us on LinkedIn and join us as we watch him grow and serve!