Designated Puppy, that is.
His name is Spike and he’s aiming to make a big impact in 2020 and beyond.
Named after Atlanta United’s “Golden Spike” tradition at its home matches, the 12-week-old Labrador Retriever will hit the training pitch for the next 14-16 months with the purpose of becoming a service dog. The club partnered with America’s VetDogs, a New York-based nonprofit organization that provides service dogs to U.S. veterans, active-duty service members and first responders with disabilities.
Spike is the first service dog to represent a Major League Soccer club and has already quickly formed a bond with his new teammates as Pity Martinez can attest.
Atlanta United officials boarded a private jet for Smithtown, New York to sign Spike, but first made sure the pup was comfortable with a ball at his feet — and mouth. After Spike showed his affection, he was presented his Five Stripes kit before jetting to Atlanta.
At the club’s training facility, Spike got comfortable in his new surroundings before putting paw to paper on his new contract.
“One of the pillars of our club and a priority for the Blank Family of Businesses is giving back to the community,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales said in a statement. “It is always a privilege to be able to support our Armed Forces. This partnership allows us to be a part of a program that serves veterans while also educating our supporters and raising awareness about the incredible work of the America’s VetDogs organization. We are excited to welcome Spike into our family and can’t wait to introduce him to our fans.”
During his initial training phase, Spike will live with an Atlanta-based volunteer puppy raiser selected by America’s VetDogs. Spike will then return to the America's VetDogs campus in Smithtown, New York, to begin his advanced service dog training with a certified service dog instructor.
When his training is complete, Spike will be matched and placed with a veteran or first responder with disabilities at no charge to the individual. Funding comes from the generosity of individuals, businesses, and community organizations.
Spike should also make an impact on select matchdays as well as community events, where fans will get to interact with him.