Meet Meghan Watson | Puppy Raiser and Employee Spotlight
The moment she was born, Meghan’s parents were over the moon for their only child. On the paternal side of her family, all of the men are born with X-linked retinitis pigmentosa. Meghan’s dad, Keith, was diagnosed at 12 years old and went 100 percent blind just a few years after he married her mom, Wendy. Meghan did not have retinitis pigmentosa, but she was born with a heart condition that required open-heart surgery at just seven days old and then again at age two and a half.
Generosity of Spirit Begins at Home
Her dad postponed receiving his first guide dog until Meghan fully recovered from her surgery. But before her third birthday, a massive, 95-pound, snow-white colored yellow Lab guide dog named Christopher bounded into their family. Christopher came from Southeastern Guide Dogs, and Meghan remembers him well. “He was huge, and he used to get really excited,” she says. “When it was time for him to eat, he would run around the house going crazy.”
Another of Meghan’s favorite childhood memories is a holiday tradition she shares with her dad. Each year, he would lift her to put the angel on top of their Christmas tree. “Now that I’m older, he doesn’t lift me up, but he holds the ladder that I climb to reach the top of the tree,” she says.
Encouraged by her parents, her kindness, positive attitude, and “angelic” deeds are a way of life for Meghan. “My parents always raised me to be thankful and humble for the life that I have,” she says. And it shows.
Making a Pitch for Puppy Raising
Born and raised in Temple Terrace, Meghan and her family came to Southeastern Guide Dogs every other weekend for puppy hugging. Being around the puppies intrigued Meghan and got her wondering about raising a puppy of her own. When her dad received his first successor dog, Lucy, Meghan was 9. “I remember we got her puppy photo,” she says. “I found out that Lucy had a puppy raiser, and that was it.” Meghan set about putting together a binder that outlined all of the reasons she should raise a puppy. It included statistics about the cost, and how many hours she could put toward Girl Scout badges. “My parents told me ‘no,’” she says. “They explained that it wasn’t the right time.”
Undeterred, Meghan held onto her dream. “As I got older, I understood the impact of the dogs,” she says. “It made it more appealing to become a puppy raiser.”
Not one to slow down, Meghan spent enjoyable summers as a child at Camp Boggy Creek, part of actor Paul Newman’s SeriousFun Children’s Network, where children with similar serious illnesses spend a week at sleep-away camp. Meghan eventually joined the camp team as a volunteer camp counselor.
In high school, Meghan started volunteering with Special Olympics through a service club. She focused on coaching the game she loves—volleyball. Her own volleyball career had ended suddenly after a torn meniscus in middle school. She continues to volunteer with Special Olympics, and two years ago, she and a friend became volunteer game managers. The two are in charge of running Special Olympics volleyball tournaments across three counties. “With Special Olympics, it’s not about competition,” she says. “It’s just playing to play and not to win.”
Measuring Life One Puppy at a Time
In 2017 Meghan’s parents gave her a choice: she could live on campus in the dorms, or she could live at home and become a puppy raiser. Living at home won. She raised Rosie, who is now a working guide dog in Alabama; Finley, who is training on our campus; and she’s now raising Indy. “Indy is a spitfire,” Meghan says. “She’s the most energetic puppy I’ve raised.”
Making the World a Brighter Place
Not one to miss an opportunity to give back, Meghan noticed students on her University of South Florida (USF) campus struggled with making friends, and a lot of them were missing the dogs that they left behind at home. Having raised Rosie, and with what she knew about the student puppy raising club at the USF St. Petersburg campus, she modeled a USF Tampa club after the group. Using those binder skills from a decade earlier, Meghan researched and presented her case. The USF Puppy Club Tampa held its first meeting in March 2018. “I expected 20 people,” she says. “We had 90 people show up.” So far, the club has raised Finley, Iris, Azul, Vita, Snowy, Casey, Gator, and Indy, and they are about to raise their ninth puppy.
Meghan got Rosie right when her dad retired his guide, Lucy. The family had all stages of program dogs in their house: Rosie, a puppy in training; Lucy, a retired guide; and Buddy, a new guide dog. “It was a really exciting time,” she says. “It took some getting used to; starting a brand-new puppy surprised us at what goes into raising a puppy.” The number one question Meghan gets asked is how she gives a puppy back. “I joke that I just walk right over to the Puppy Academy and get a new puppy,” she says. “In the end, you realize that the dog has a much higher purpose than being your dog, and that makes all of the hard work worth it.”
A Degree and Angelic Deeds
On December 14, 2019, Meghan walked across the stage at the Yuengling Center and graduated from USF with a B.S. degree in business marketing with a minor in mass communications/advertising. Today, she walked into her first day as a full-time marketing coordinator for our Sponsor a Puppy program, after starting part-time a few weeks ago. Her life is changing, but we know her spirit of sharing remains the same.
Giving back to her community and encouraging children with life-threatening illnesses and other challenges will never stop being a part of Meghan—it’s in her DNA. “I believe in giving back to others because of all that people have given to me in my life,” she says. And when she tops off her family’s Christmas tree with their angel, it reflects Meghan’s angelic deeds—deeds that she now shares with us.