Charlie Annenberg founded Dog Bless You, a non-profit organization after adopting a Golden Retriever named Lucky. The organization got it’s name because years earlier Lucky had befriended a homeless man in San Francisco. As they were leaving, the man said “Dog bless you.”
Lucky inspired him to do more to strengthen dog and human connections and a new “breed” of philanthropy was born.
The 46-year-old included Lucky in all his projects. They travelled a lot, making documentaries about people who were making a difference. Lucky’s companionship and influence led to donations to dog-focused causes from the approximately $8 million Annenberg overseas annually.
Lucky made documentary interviews easy for people from all walks of life. Everyone felt comfortable around him. In each small town and big city, man and dog would make unannounced stops at a retirement home. Lucky always stole the show.
The workload for the pair grew with explore.org. Annenberg brought wildlife (bears and bees and beluga whales) to life for millions of web watchers using state-of-the-art cameras. He and Lucky travelled to every installation in North America. Everywhere they went, Lucky was filmed interacting with people and places.
At the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi, Annenberg cut a harmonica-backed, spontaneous freestyle jazz tribute to Lucky.
“It doesn’t matter what color your skin, man or woman, fat or thin. He loves them all, every day. His name is Lucky and he’s my friend.”
In 2010, Annenberg decided to use his Lucky photos and films for a travel journal on Facebook, telling the story of their trips. Today, the Dog Bless You facebook page has more than 510,000 fans.
The Facebook page was initially about Lucky. Then it captured the growing pet fervor.
When an earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, killing more than 18,000 people, Annenberg used Dog Bless You to send six search dogs.
Then war veterans started returning home in large numbers, with wounds including brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Passion for the cause on Dog Bless You soared. Service dogs can cost between $2,000 and $50,000 each, depending on how much training they need, Johnson said.
Annenberg, grandson of the late publisher, ambassador and philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg, is a vice president and director of the grant-making Annenberg Foundation and gives away up to $8 million a year.
In just three years, he has donated 170 guide dogs, search-and-rescue dogs and service dogs for veterans.
The majority of the dogs funded by Annenberg have been for veterans. He plans to accelerate the dog grant program because there are waiting lists at most training school. Experts say thousands of veterans could benefit from a dog,.s
Warrior Canine Connection in Brookeville, Md., is just one of the dog training schools used. It is one of the most unique schools as their dogs are not only raised for veterans, but also by veterans. The latest group of nine puppies are even named after veterans, said Warrior Canine executive director Rick Yount. They are called the “honor litter,” and their names are Bre, Luke, Gavin, Leigh Ann, Derek, Nick, Florence, Cody and Stanley.
“It’s a good way to say, “We are not forgetting about your sacrifices.” Their namesakes get to spend time with the puppies and get therapy themselves,” Yount said.
For the first 8 to 12 weeks the puppies are trained by veterans . The pups then move on to the homes of volunteers from military or veteran’s organizations. “By the time a dog is fully trained, over 500 vets and service members have been involved in getting it ready,” Yount said.
“Hearing the stories of how these dogs help bring their humans out of the darkness is incredible. In some instances, having the companionship of a dog is what motivates them to keep going – it gives them a purpose and reason to get up in the morning,” said Dog Bless You fan Rachel Nelken of Vancouver, British Columbia.
As Lucky aged and slowed down, the format of Dog Bless You changed, becoming a tribute to every dog. And Lucky had to retire from travelling.
Annenberg misses Lucky at work.
“He was my partner on all these trips,” he said. “It’s not the same. He would open the door and make me look good. People always stopped and petted him. Everyone wanted to keep Lucky, especially the coal miners. Isn’t it interesting that every day was a new day for Lucky? And he just wanted to be petted? It’s been a great ride.”
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