What the Today Show's Wrangler looks like now

Have you ever become completely engrossed in a show, only for it to end and you to be left wondering what became of its beloved stars? While NBC's Today Show is still going strong, countless fans indubitably feel that way about one very special member of the team who has since moved on. Hint? He loves treats and tends to drool. If you guessed Wrangler the yellow Lab, you'd be right.

The addition of Wrangler on the Today set proved to be a big hit with viewers and guests alike — not to mention the anchors, who clearly couldn't get enough of the sweet pup. "He ties in so well with whatever we're doing," former co-anchor of Today's Take told Wag magazine in March 2015, noting that the puppy had a "calming effect on celebrities," too.

Although the Today Show offers occasional updates on the lab, you may be wondering what's next for the one-time NBC canine correspondent. Prepare to feel all the warm and fuzzies, friends, because Wrangler's post-Today endeavors do not disappoint. 

Puppy with a purpose

In 2015, the Today Show staff got a whole lot… hairier. But also infinitely more snuggly, because the team took on the task of raising a then-10-week-old yellow Labrador retriever. To do so, they joined forces with experienced dog handler Saxon Eastman as well as the New York nonprofit Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The goal? To train the precious pup to become a guide dog. "If all goes well our puppy will graduate after 16 months and get adopted free of charge by an individual who is blind or visually impaired, profoundly changing that person's life," read the Today Show blog

Being on the show would play a part in the pup's readiness. "During the course of his time here, he will meet a variety of new people and learn how to interact with them calmly and appropriately," said the blog. This socialization was intended to shape the puppy's "confidence and adaptability," traits he would need to succeed as a guide dog. 

Wrangler, meet the people of the plaza

Once the new puppy — which fans voted to be named Wrangler — adjusted to his surroundings inside Studio 1A, it was time for the moment of truth. Wrangler would need to meet his adoring public, and that meant his first trek outside to explore the famed "plaza."

Sporting an orange Today Show hoodie, Wrangler appeared right at home. And, according to the pup's then-trainer, Eastman, experiencing that sort of outdoor environment was useful for the guide-dog-in-training. It would build on the socialization skills Wrangler was learning while being part of the Today Show team (socialization that adorably included playing with celebs like Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt!).

Understandably, though, all that mingling can take a lot out of a puppy. "He loved his visit to the plaza so much that he had to recover from all the excitement with a much-needed nap," said the Today blog of Wrangler's plaza debut.

Who's a good (guide) dog?

Although rubbing elbows (dogs have elbows, right?) with celebrities was all in a day's work for Wrangler, the pup never lost focus on his true mission: to become a guide dog. According to Eastman, Wrangler's training was essentially around-the-clock. 

During a Facebook Live session when Wrangler was just over three months old, Eastman explained the pair did short, formal obedience sessions several times a day. "However, most of Wrangler's training is integrated seamlessly into our everyday lives," Eastman elaborated. "For example, I ask Wrangler to practices his 'sit' before we pass through a door." 

All that training paid off, too. At only four months old, Wrangler passed his first quarterly "Walk and Talk" examination — which earned the prize pupil his official Guiding Eyes' service dog jacket. Per Today's blog, adapting to the feeling of wearing something on his body was essential to Wrangler's acceptance of a guide dog harness later.

Paws for reflection

As any proud parent can attest, babies don't keep. Before you know it, they're all grown up and ready to set out on their own — whether you're ready for that moment or not. The same could be said in the case of the Today Show's four-legged little one. "It seems like just yesterday he joined our family when he was just a little puppy," co-anchor Savannah Guthrie reminisced on Wrangler's last day. "Well, now he's ready to embark on the next step of his journey with Guiding Eyes for the Blind." 

But not before the team sent off their favorite canine with a video tribute to his time at NBC. In the sweet retrospective, impressive stats about Wrangler were revealed. Like, for example, the fact that he spent 288 mornings on Today. Or that he traveled a whoppin' 30,000 miles. There were a few soft stats too, like the fact that Wrangler played with nearly 60 toys and earned almost 6,000 treats during his Today tenure. 

Suffice it to say, there wasn't a dry eye in the house when it came time to say goodbye to this puppy with a purpose

A real teacher's pet

As hard as it was to bid adieu to Wrangler, the Today Show team knew the beloved pup was bound for bigger and better things. A mere week after he left the show, they received word that Wrangler had passed his In-For-Training test, bringing him one step closer to becoming a full-fledged guide dog. A few months later, Wrangler did it! After graduating from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the puppy with a purpose officially found that purpose by being paired with blind music professor Bill Stevens.

Stevens, who told Today in a video interview that he lost 99 percent of his sight at the age of 14, immediately bonded with the yellow Lab. And it turns out, Wrangler's early exposure to loud stimuli on the Today Show did uniquely prepare him for the job. "It's great to have a dog who's really comfortable with the music," Stevens said of playing jazz piano with Wrangler by his side, adding, "Having a dog is very liberating, and it's liberating in the context of companionship." 

Reunited and it feels so good

C'mon, you know the Today Show crew couldn't go for long without getting their fix of Wrangler snuggles! Several months after the pup left the show, former NBC anchor Tamara Hall trotted Wrangler out to the plaza for a surprise reunion — he was the "special mystery guest" of the day.

Wrangler wasn't the only surprise in store for the Today team that day, either. Rather, Wrangler's visit also served as a symbolic passing of the torch from one puppy with a purpose to the next. "We're getting a new puppy!" Hall exclaimed to her surprised cohorts. 

It would later be revealed that Wrangler had officially handed over the Today Show reins to a young black lab by the name of Charlie. "He came to Today from America's VetDogs, a nonprofit that trains dogs to support veterans and first responders during combat, both physically and emotionally," explained the Today blog.

A change of career

Wrangler remained a dutiful guide dog for a year, but fate ultimately had other plans for the Today Show's former star. On July 6, 2017, he was accepted into the Connecticut State Police detection dog program, thus bringing his career as a guide dog to an end.

"Matching a guide dog to a person with blindness or a visual impairment is a very delicate and complicated process," Eastman told Today. It typically takes anywhere from six months to a year to determine whether or not the dog is suited for that type of service long-term, explained the trainer.

Once that determination was made regarding Wrangler, they pivoted toward a role that would better suit the pup's strengths. "As a guide dog, Wrangler helped one person live a more independent life. As a detection dog, he will be helping large groups of people, making sure that everyone is safe from criminal activity," Eastman said. 

Talk about the bomb dot com

Ever the star student, Wrangler made his way through the Connecticut State Police detection dog program with flying colors. So in December 2017, the canine took his next big step — becoming a member of the elite explosive detection K-9 unit.

It was a poignant moment for Wrangler's trainer to see him take such a monumental step. "Watching them graduate with the 190th Explosive Detection Class of the State Police Canine Training Unit grounded me in why I love being a puppy raiser," Eastman wrote on Instagram of Wrangler and his fellow trainee, Jewel.

According to the Today Show blog, Wrangler was paired with Trooper First Class Kevin Reed in the Mass Transit Unit. The two will work together to patrol and protect trains and stations from New Haven, Connecticut, to New York City. In early December 2017, Eastman shared a video of the new partners showing how Wrangler would alert Reed if he should ever detect an explosive.  

A model detection dog

Although Wrangler's stint as a guide dog didn't last, his career as an explosive detection police K-9 seems destined for greatness. If you ask Guiding Eyes President and CEO Thomas Panek, the original puppy with a purpose is precisely where he was meant to be. "At Guiding Eyes, we always look to place dogs in the career that's right for them," Panek told Today. Per Panek, Wrangler's personality is a natural fit for this new line of work since he "always loved to sniff and follow his nose."

Reed, Wrangler's police partner, sings the dog's praises as well, telling NBC Connecticut, "We want dogs to intermingle with the public very easily, which Labradors do, and Wrangler does it very well." So well, in fact, that people often approach the pair for cuddles, conversation and, of course, selfies. As long as Wrangler isn't on the job, says Reed, he's happy to oblige. Due to the dog's time on the Today Show, the outgoing lab is a bomb-sniffing celebrity.