Wrangler, ‘Today’ show puppy, leaves after more than a year

Our little pup has grown up. Wrangler, the “Today” show’s “puppy with a purpose,” bid his TV family goodbye Thursday morning, after more than a year in which the guide-dog-in-training learned socialization with crew members, celebrities and the morning-show anchors themselves, including best buddy Matt Lauer.

“We just want to say our loss is someone else’s gain,” said Lauer, as the anchors and Wrangler’s trainer, Saxon Eastman of Westchester County’s Guiding Eyes for the Blind, raised glasses of champagne. “And the reason we can deal with the losing [of] Wrangler here on the show is we know Wrangler is going to make a huge difference in someone else’s life.”

The farewell began at 8:30, when co-anchor Carson Daly took Wrangler for what the anchors jokingly called a victory lap on the “Today” plaza, where an artificial lawn was festooned with an orange-and-white balloon arch. About 15 minutes later, after other segments, Wrangler walked a red carpet in the show’s Studio 1A.

To an acoustic-guitar soundtrack, the show ran a montage of the puppy “who immediately stole our hearts” as he learned necessary socialization skills. Wrangler, whose name was chosen by viewer votes, joined “Today” on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, and appeared on 288 mornings, traveled 30,000 miles for the show, and played with 57 toys.

“What I’m going to miss most is finding all the pieces of kibble in all my suit pockets,” Lauer joked. He also said the show’s time with Wrangler was “a journey we were honored to be a part of” and the farewell was “a very bittersweet morning.”

On Wednesday night, Wrangler’s Instagram account posted a photo of the 16-month-old yellow Labrador retriever sitting with his framed Guiding Eyes certificate. “Last #GuidingEyes puppy class tonight,” the post read. “Last @todayshow tomorrow. I’m a busy boy!” Now that Wrangler has completed his initial training, he’ll begin advanced training with a professional instructor. At 2 years old, he will be matched as a guide dog for a person with vision loss.

“Tomorrow on TODAY . . . We bid a fond farewell to our pal @WranglerTODAY,” the “Today” Twitter feed posted Wednesday night. Daly retweeted it and added, “Last day buddy . . . will miss you.”

Eastman, a Guiding Eyes employee and volunteer puppy trainer, raised her first guide dog while attending Boston College. Wrangler, whom she began training in January 2015, is her third.

“This is the hardest part of puppy-raising . . . but it’s also so rewarding because it’s what you’ve worked for for the past 16 months,” she said. “You’ve seen this dog grow from a little 8-week old puppy who didn’t know anything to being an adult who’s ready to move on to the next stage in his journey.”