Behind the Scenes: Creating Dogs of Destiny
Jen Noble is an Emmy® Award-winning video storyteller, and the producer of the premiere episode of Dogs of Destiny, a new web series that dives into the many stories surrounding the dogs of Southeastern Guide Dogs, and the humans lucky enough to raise, train, and interact with them in real life.
We wanted to get a first-person ‘behind the scenes’ tour of what it takes to create a brand-new series, so we sat down with Jen for a quick Q&A about her episode, the stars of the show, and the many emotionally engaging stories it contains.
First question right off the bat is Dogs of Destiny, the web series—
What is it all about?
Jen Noble: Dogs of Destiny is a series that is telling you what Southeastern Guide Dogs is all about. But more than that, it’s a look inside. I say bring both your funny bone and tissues because it’s going to take you on an emotional roller coaster. You’re going to laugh; you’re going to cry. I’ve watched these stories a hundred times and I still laugh and cry in the same places. I can imagine what it’s going to be like for a viewer the first time they see it.
Can you give us a little bit of background about who you are and your point of view on storytelling via video?
Jen Noble: I don’t know how to describe what I do, but I do believe I’m a storyteller. I love to hear people’s stories and then create a visual story that people are engaged in and inspired by. I learned from my mentor Jack Perkins, long considered America’s most literate journalist when he worked for NBC. And I learned from him what he learned from David Brinkley, which is the mantra of “say less, mean more.”
When I hear their interview and what they say about their life, I automatically have a visual in my head of how I’m going to portray that. And I’ve worked with wonderful directors of photography, editors and people who understand my process, and they’re also as passionate about it as I am.
You’re part of the Southeastern Guide Dogs video team, and were tapped to create the premiere episode of this brand-new series, Dogs of Destiny. What was that like?
Jen Noble: Yeah, it was exciting for me. When they first presented it to me, I mean, I have a video background, but when I started here as a staff member, I was a copywriter because writing is the core of what I do. And I was happy doing that. I was really thrilled and it was kind of like, hey, I don’t have to set up a production or anything. Then they approached me with this idea, and I was excited about it because [Southeastern Guide Dogs CEO] Titus [Herman] showed me an American Idol piece that he saw. I love those backstories. And he said, “I really want to expand on this concept.” I said, “This sounds like a show.” I saw a whole series in my mind. And that’s how I started. It was the visualization. And then it evolved into Dogs of Destiny.
Every episode is going to have its own unique focus. What is it for this premiere episode?
Jen Noble: The first episode is about veterans. We all recognize them for their bravery in serving their country. But for them, it’s an even a bigger act of courage to come forward to get a service dog to help with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They really don’t want to admit that they need help. They’re used to being the ones helping others. So when they take that first step, and they realize how amazing it is and how this dog is going to change their life—that’s an incredible story to see.
One of the featured military elements is a facility therapy dog named Midnight, who happens to be out at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado. This story shows the wide range of people who come to Southeastern Guide Dogs [from all over the country].
This dog Midnight, or Middy for short, is helping the service men and women on that base. It’s helping psychologists, or therapists like Virginia Howard, get people to open up to her. They don’t really want to talk about their feelings, but a dog like Middy, she just opens everybody’s heart.
So, while Southeastern Guide Dogs does serve visually impaired individuals, there are a lot of other programs as well. Are there other stories within the episode that illustrate different services?
Jen Noble: Yes. There is also a story about a dog named Taylor who was given to a Gold Star family who lost a family member in the military. And that’s a really touching story too.
One of the big things that people can experience in this series is that there’s no single segment that tells the entire Southeastern Guide Dogs story, and no one type of person that is representative of everybody who’s ever been served by the organization.
Jen Noble: Correct. There were many, many volunteers involved, and we get to meet some puppy raisers. That’s a story I love because they are the people that take these puppies into their homes and keep them, give them basic training, love and socialization for a year—and sometimes longer.
After that, the puppy raisers bring them back to campus to go to Canine University to begin their advanced skills training. It takes a very special person to be able to give up a dog that you’ve definitely fallen in love with. We also get to see their evolution when they get to come back and have a reunion with that dog about six months later.
The dog definitely remembers his or her puppy raisers. They have that moment together, and they have wonderful stories about their dogs. What I love about Dogs of Destiny is we get to meet these dogs in this episode who are service dogs, but also get to see them both on and off the job. And there is a real difference in their personalities when they’re working with their coats on, and when they’re off the clock, and just being the dog they are. We also get to see their puppy personalities. That’s really sweet and funny too.
It sounds like this type of show could be appeal to a wide variety of people. People who love animals. People who love supporting the military of the United States of America. People who love puppies—am I getting that right?
Jen Noble: You are. I hope it entertains and inspires people. My hope is to encourage viewers to want to get involved or learn more about Southeastern Guide Dogs, because there are just so many compelling stories here. I wanted to show that there are so many ways to support these incredible superheroes. I know it sounds like a cliché, but they really are superheroes.
If each episode has its own cast of characters, who are the dogs we’re going to meet in the premiere episode?
Jen Noble: We already talked about a black Labrador retriever named Midnight. She’s the facility therapy dog at Buckley Air Force Base, and just bring smiles to everybody.
We’re also going to meet Conway. He’s a real character. He is a black Lab too. His puppy raisers have just a sweet story about Conway and I don’t want to ruin it, but it’s pretty cute.
Chenille is a beautiful yellow Lab, and her nickname is Che-nay-nay. When she’s on the job, she’s very serious, but the second her working coat comes off, she’s a dog just like any other.
Smokey is a black Lab, and her puppy raisers took her to IKEA because they felt that she needed to learn how to navigate and apparently, she has some good taste in furniture too.
C.W. is a black Goldador, part Lab, part Golden Retriever. When I asked the puppy raisers to send me photographs for the show, C.W.’s puppy raisers sent me over 200. They really do treat these dogs as if they are their children.
I had just so much material to work with. You’ll also meet Roxy and Taylor. Taylor is going to melt to your heart because she is a Gold Star family dog. And that story in itself is, it will take you on an emotional roller coaster.
It sounds like each episode is really going to give the viewer a 360º view of what Southeastern Guide Dogs is all about, not just in terms of who we serve, but how our dogs are raised from puppy through the start of their service careers.
Jen Noble: Yes. I think viewers of this episode are going to be fascinated with the dogs. But I want to peel back layers in future episodes. We’ll look into puppy raising a bit more, what’s involved with that because maybe people would like to do that.
There’s also Sassy, the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus cat. I want to learn a little bit more about that kind of thing. Then there’s the history of Southeastern Guide Dogs. I think people need to know about that, when it started, with how many dogs, and how it’s evolved. There’s just so much, so many stories to uncover.
It sounds like future episodes of Dogs of Destiny are going to dive into those subjects. What’s coming next?
Jen Noble: Right now, I can only say that I shot more than 50% of the second episode. Viewers will get to meet the students in our guide dog classes and how they, in just three weeks, experience a real transformation in their lives. Just to hear their backstories, it’s just very powerful. What they face and how they…it’s a big step to get a guide dog. I mean, think about it. A guide dog in itself is a lot of responsibility, but you have to be able to take care of your dog and have confidence that it is a partner you can truly rely on. They are lot of responsibility, but they truly change lives, so it’s definitely worth it.
Like many program-length shows, Dogs of Destiny has a title theme song. But there’s a bit of a special story attached to it. What can you tell us about that?
Jen Noble: I’m proud to say that the theme song called “Count on Me” was written, sung, and the acoustic guitar part was performed by my brother, Michael Noble. We’ve collaborated before on documentaries and it’s always fun. He is a member of The Grand Ole Opry house band, so he plays with a lot of country performers.
He used to write for Warner Chappell Music. And he’s a studio musician as well, so he’s got the chops. He’s my very talented older brother.
I asked him a while ago, if he could do it, could he write a theme song? He can do things pretty quickly, but he’s been very busy with the Opry. He said, “I’m not so sure I can do it, Jen. I just don’t want it to disappoint you.” And so, I kind of broached it again at the beginning of January after the holidays were over.
A little later, he called me and said, “I can’t believe it, but I was on my way to the shoe repair shop and the lyrics just dropped in my lap.” Then he said, “I can’t promise anything, but I’m going to go home and I’m going to work on it. But the [creative] oven’s on preheat, so not fully heated yet. I’m not going to make any promises.” Well, it wasn’t even two hours later, and he’s sending me an iPhone version of it.
He’s like, “Don’t share this with anyone.” So I listened—and cried right away when I heard the lyrics. It’s written from the dog’s perspective, and I think it captures our mission at Southeastern Guide Dogs just so perfectly. It’s such a wonderful gift. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
You can hear “Count on Me” and view the entire 30-minute premiere episode beginning Friday, February 5, 2021 at 1 p.m. EST on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or here on the Southeastern Guide Dogs website
If you’d like to view Dogs of Destiny in all its cinematic glory, watch it on your smart TV via Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Firestick by opening the YouTube app and searching for ‘Southeastern Guide Dogs.’