Beloved baseball mascots Mr. and Mrs. Met have a new friendly face with them at Citi Field: Shea the puppy.
Shea, a six-month-old Labrador retriever puppy training to be a service dog with America's VetDogs, is spending his formative months with the New York Mets baseball team at Citi Field in New York City.
America's VetDogs — a nonprofit that provides veterans and first responders with specially-trained service dogs free of charge — announced in March that The Amazin' Mets Foundation (AMF), the philanthropic arm of the New York Mets, is helping sponsor and raise Shea.
"From the ownership, to the team, the players, the staff, they've all rallied around our mission and the program, which you know is going to make it a successful venture," John Miller, the CEO of America's VetDogs, told PEOPLE about the partnership between six-month-old Shea and the Mets.
After puppies are born and weaned at America's VetDogs campus in Smithtown, New York, the future service dogs are placed with volunteer puppy raisers — animal-loving individuals willing to socialize and train a puppy in their homes for 14 to 16 months.
With their puppy raisers, America's VetDogs canines learn basic obedience and social skills and are introduced to new situations. This step is crucial to a service dog in training's success because it helps the puppy acclimate to different people, sights, sounds, and smells, so they don't get distracted once they are a working service dog.
America's VetDogs places their puppies with puppy raisers all across the country and partner with professional sports teams. The nonprofits have found that sports teams make great puppy raisers because the are easily able to expose dogs to loud sounds, enticing smells and thousands of people.
"We have many of our veterans lead very active lifestyles, so Shea having more experience here, on the field, interacting with the team, the players, the balls flying around, it just makes him more well-rounded and well-adjusted dog, and easier to place ultimately," Miller explained.
Shea is the first puppy from America's VetDogs to be placed with a major league baseball team and he is already a natural. The Lab tries to attend most of the Mets' home games with Tom and Deb Rubing, who care for Shea at home when he is not at Citi Field.
"This is the seventh dog that we've raised for the foundation," Tom, a lifelong Mets fan and longtime puppy raiser, said of Shea.
"It's fun. It's challenging. It's a great way to spend retirement," he added.
At the games, Tom and Deb happily escort Shea around the ballpark to greet fans, down to the field during batting practice to give the Mets some sweet support, and to his own set at Citi Field when he needs a nap.
"It's all happy smiles. Kids pet the dog, and we walk around with him all day when we're here," Tom said.
For those who can't make it to Citi Field, Shea has his own Instagram (@MetsVetDog), where he shows fans how he spends his days.
Miller and the Rubings hope that Shea's spot on a national stage inspires others to explore how they can help support America's VetDogs' service dogs. The organization offers various volunteer opportunities with their dogs including plenty that require less commitment and time than puppy raising. All of America's VetDogs volunteers and donors help the nonprofit provide service dogs to veterans and first responders free of charge, saving heroes the over $50,000 it cost to raise and train a service dog.
When Shea isn't with the Mets, the little dog's life is similar to many other puppies, according to the Rubings. Shea plays, runs around, crashes on the couch, and cuddles with his caretakers.
Shea will keep up this exciting schedule of going to baseball games and goofing off at home until a few months after his first birthday.
"From that period until about the two-year mark, he'll be in our office in Smithtown with our professional trainers. And that'll be the point where we try to match him with a veteran based on desired energy level and activity level, and how well they work together," Miller said.
To learn more about Shea, America's VetDogs, and how you can help puppies become service dogs, visit VetDogs.org.