1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Lightning

The Lightning’s new pup is more than just a photo op prop

The team is raising Bolt to be a future guide dog in partnership with Southeastern Guide Dogs. Here’s a glimpse into what all that entails.
The Lightning are raising a service dog in training named Bolt. (Courtesy of the Lightning)
Published Aug. 10
Updated Aug. 11

TAMPA — Bolt takes Missy Davis and Sarah Costello on a Starbucks run. He has a little romp in the leaves and tries to eat a few things. Then Bolt takes a nap.

All normal things for a 17-week-old yellow Labrador. But Bolt isn’t a normal puppy.

Few puppies have two-hour photo shoots to generate a video for his 3,000 Twitter followers. It’s all part of a day in the life of a team dog.

MORE LIGHTNING: An early look at Tampa Bay’s lineup

It’s not all fun and photo opportunities, though.

Bolt is the Lightning’s newest ambassador, and more important, he’s in training to be a service dog with Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto. His training is more thorough and regimented than your average pup’s.

Why did the Lightning get a dog?

The Lightning have worked with Southeastern Guide Dogs in the past and made donations on behalf of their Community Heroes program.

“We’re always looking for ways to deepen our relationships with nonprofits other than financially,” said Elizabeth Frazier, the Lightning’s senior vice president of philanthropy and community initiatives. “And this seemed like a natural way to do it.”

The idea of a team dog started with Costello, manager of the Lightning Foundation and community events. She wondered about the Lightning raising a service dog after working with Southeastern Guide Dogs on its Tampa walkathon in April.

MORE SPORTS: Where ya’ll sittin’ Tampa Bay sports edition

Costello, who has a dog named Benjamin due to a well-timed Ben Bishop shutout, looked into other NHL organizations with team dogs.

The Blues’ Barclay was the most public. Six teams raise guide dogs , and the Predators have an office rescue dog.

Costello made the pitch to Frazier, who has three dogs. The two took the idea to Lightning CEO Steve Griggs, who has sponsored dogs at Southeastern Guide Dogs and owns a dog that was raised through the program but needed a “career change.”

“It was a very short conversation,” Frazier said.

The question was who would be the “puppy raiser,” as Southeastern Guide Dogs calls it. Davis, senior manager of the Lightning Foundation and finance, volunteered. She has had dogs in the past but hadn’t had any in awhile.

She said the application process was like going through the FBI, but in the end, Bolt moved in.

What goes into raising Bolt?

First there’s service-dog-specific training. Bolt learned to sit on command before and after going through a door, for example. Davis had never crated a dog, but Bolt must sleep in his crate until he is permanently matched with someone who needs him.

MORE SPORTS: The top 50 college football performances in state history

Because no one knows what Bolt’s career will bring until he matures more and the trainers at Southeastern Guide Dogs can get a sense of his strengths, he’s prepared for anything.

Being a team dog also raises challenges. Bolt spends a lot more time around people than the average dog, so much so that sometimes Davis and “office co-parent” Costello hang a “puppy sleeping” sign on their door to get work done.

Increased socialization is good for a service dog. But Bolt has more one-on-one meetings than is the norm with Carrie Barnett, Southeastern Guide Dogs’ regional manager for puppy raising services, and Loretta Holtkamp, the organization’s area coordinator.

Barnett and Holtkamp walk around Amalie Arena to get Bolt ready for opening night Oct. 3. He rides the elevator and gets used to the arena’s big bank of windows (though like many puppies, he barks at his reflection). Barnett would like to expose Bolt to the goal horn and the pregame Tesla coil lightning strike before the season starts.

Barnett consults with a friend and former co-worker from a different service dog school who has worked with Wrangler, who was featured on the Today show as a “puppy with a purpose,” and Ranger, the New York Rangers’ dog. They talk about things to expect and the value of Bolt and Davis building a relationship before the season starts.

What’s next for Bolt?

The Lightning are still figuring out exactly what Bolt’s role as ambassador will be. It will definitely include videos and photos on Twitter and Instagram. The Lightning are aiming for a post a day on one platform or the other. Costello, who takes some of the photos, jokes that she can add “Bolt brand manager” to her title.

Bolt will be at games, but he might start out in some of the suites before joining the main crowd.

Davis works sales for the 50/50 drawing at games, so Bolt might join that team. He’ll visit the community corner in Section 123. He might get on the ice at intermission at some point.

Bolt will live with Davis and the Lightning for 12 to 14 months. Davis will continue training him in basic obedience, socialization, housebreaking (he learned that one quickly) and house manners.

After that, Bolt will go back to Southeastern Guide Dogs’ 30-plus-acre property for six months of school with professional service dog trainers. Once he is matched with a person, he and his person will do another month of training together.

In all, Southeastern Guide Dogs graduates about 150 dogs a year for the visually impaired and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder at no cost to them.

For now, Bolt is enjoying puppy life.

Soft snores come from under Davis’ desk as she talks.

He’s a good boy.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.


  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) warms up before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) ALASTAIR GRANT  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What else went wrong in London, ranking the Rays, Lightning worries, Gators’ SEC title hopes.
  2. Montreal Canadiens left wing Jonathan Drouin (92) takes a shot during the first period of a game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 3, 2019. GERRY BROOME  |  AP
    Also, Tampa Bay’s practice picks up in intensity after a day off ... and a lackluster showing on Saturday.
  3. The Lightning's alternate "disrupt the night" jerseys will be back for weekend games at Amalie Arena this season. SHADD, DIRK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    “Disrupt the night” jerseys return for weekend games, starting on Saturday.
  4. Lightning forward Yanni Gourde and the rest of the team have to play with more consistency. The fifth of six consecutive road games takes place Tuesday in Montreal. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    A Stanley Cup favorite beat the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, but a lackluster group fell to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
  5. Ottawa Senators defenceman Mark Borowiecki (74) collides with Tampa Bay Lightning centre Alex Killorn (17) and centre Anthony Cirelli during second period of NHL action in Ottawa, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways: Brayden Point shouldn’t be dropping the gloves. Lightning aren’t rolling four lines. Senators’ arena leaves a lot to be desired.
  6. Ottawa Senators center Vladislav Namestnikov (90) attempts to check Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) during first period of NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    Tampa Bay drafted Namestnikov in the first round eight years ago. He had two goals and an assist for the Senators.
  7. Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson (41) scoops the puck up in front of Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) as Senators defenseman Nikita Zaitsev (22) defends during the first period Saturday. FRED CHARTRAND  |  AP
    Giving up opportunities off the rush has been a recurring issue for Tampa Bay early this season.
  8. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Mathieu Joseph (7) celebrates a goal during the third period against the Florida Panthers last weekend in Sunrise. BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Slap Shots: Tampa Bay would like to be at home, but as far as road trips go, this one isn’t too bad.
  9. Victor Hedman played his 700th game in Toronto on Thursday. COLE BURSTON  |  AP
    Teammates call Hedman the “nicest guy you’ll ever meet” and the “ultimate friend.”
  10. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77), right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) and center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrate a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period. COLE BURSTON  |  AP
    Tampa Bay takes its shot, over and over again, against the Maple Leafs.