NBC’s “Today” show bid farewell Thursday to Charlie, a black Lab that has been making almost daily appearances on the morning talk show while in training in Smithtown as a service dog for a disabled Air Force veteran.
Charlie will now devote his time to helping Iraq War veteran Stacy Pearsall, a former combat photographer living in South Carolina who experiences balance problems, nightmares and seizures related to brain and spinal injuries resulting from explosions she endured in Iraq.
During more than a year on the show, Charlie was being trained at America’s VetDogs, a nonprofit that provides service dogs to disabled veterans.
Pearsall first met Charlie at America’s VetDogs last month, where she began learning the nuances of communicating with a dog whose mission now is to make her life easier.
“It has been an incredible journey,” Pearsall said at the “Today” studio in Rockefeller Center. “I have learned so much about not only Charlie, but how we are going to work together.
“There is something to having a teammate there when coming out of [a seizure] that adds a little bit of reassurance, and that will make all the difference,” Pearsall said.
Charlie debuted on the show 14 months ago, bounding onto the program’s set as a lanky, 8-month-old puppy sporting an American flag-themed neckerchief, the red, white and blue contrasting sharply with his jet black pelt.
Charlie quickly became one of the show’s most-loved animal sidekicks, licking puppy breath onto the chin of rap star Usher, greeting members of the gold-medal winning 2016 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastic team and cuddling with co-host Hoda Kotb.
NBC corporate parent, Comcast, presented outgoing VetDogs CEO Wells Jones with a $10,000 donation.
“We’re going to miss Charlie like crazy, but please keep in touch and tell us how you’re doing,” co-host Savannah Guthrie said.
Pearsall, who lives with her husband near Charleston, on a farm teeming with horses, dogs, and other animals, joined the Air Force when she was 17, and jumped at the chance to become a combat photographer.
Twice named the National Press Photographers Association’s military photographer of the year, Pearsall had her photographs published by newspapers across the country during the early days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
One of the few women sent into direct combat during the Iraq War — the Pentagon’s ban on women in combat remained until 2013 — she was injured by a bomb blast in 2003.
After surviving a second blast in 2007, she began to have tremors in her hands and difficulty holding her head erect. Within months, she was back in the United States, reluctantly accepting a medical retirement.
During her rehabilitation, she began photographing fellow patients at a veterans hospital in Charleston. She has since formed the Veterans Portrait Project, and travels the country photographing fellow veterans and hearing their stories.
She expected that Charlie will help put her subjects at ease.
“Not only will he be there supporting me,” Pearsall said, “having him there nearby also will offer some peace of mind to the veterans who are in front of my camera.”