Written By: Kharin Gibson | Photograph Courtesy of Canines for Service
“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.”
― Jack London
Canines for Service, a local non-profit, recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary of service in the community and has been continuing to make a difference in both the lives of animals and their biped companions.
Rick Hairston founded the charity back in 1996 after a desperate search to find an existing service-dog organization in the area. Coming up empty-handed, he evaluated his ability to run a non-profit and prayerfully searched for an answer. There were two events that shaped the future of Canines for Service.
The first was a television show with Dr. Joyce Meyers. “During the broadcast, she had made the statement, ‘If you fail, God has a lesson for you,’” remembers Rick. “The second event was seeing a church sign in Brunswick County that stated, ‘If you are looking for a sign from God, here it is.’” Feeling reassured, Rick stepped out in faith and purchased the first and only puppy for the program, whom he named Moses. Moses became a pioneer, leading the way for future service-dogs who have helped to empower individuals with disabilities by allowing them to gain greater independence and freedom over their lives.
Canines for Service trains and provides highly skilled service-dogs for individuals suffering from mobility limitations, traumatic brain injuries, and for Veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The reciprocal benefit of helping individuals in need is that the dogs used in the program are all from shelters or rescues. This duality allows both human and animal to have the opportunity to forge lasting relationships and improve their quality of life.
As part of the Canines for Service program, the dogs are trained by students to understand nearly ninety commands—ranging from picking up dropped items, to opening doors, to loading a washer and unloading a dryer. Service-dogs can also help reduce stress levels in individuals with PTSD by creating a safe space between the individual and others, and by assisting them in exiting a room. Each service-dog is carefully paired with an individual after taking that person’s needs, height, and lifestyle into consideration. Finding the right fit for both human and animal provides a positive impact upon the lives of each.
Canines for Service goes beyond matching individuals with service-dogs. As a means of inviting more community involvement, Canines for Service offers Canines for Therapy, a pet therapy program. Canines for Therapy offers training for people from the community and their pet dogs who wish to volunteer by visiting hospitals, nursing facilities, assisted living facilities and schools. Canines for Therapy teams visit approximately 75 facilities in the community, spanning a handful of counties. These teams, along with their service-dogs, offer emotional support and mental wellbeing to individuals in need.
Additionally, certified Canines for Therapy teams can then become mentors within the Canine for Literacy program which offers reading assistance to struggling and disabled students. Canines for Literacy teams are active in eight different elementary schools throughout the local community, assisting children with reading, as well as spending time at local branch libraries making themselves available for children to read to the therapy dogs.
Rick, along with his wife, Pat, have devoted their time and energy to providing the best quality service-dogs to people with disabilities at no cost to the recipient. “The model is a triple-win philosophy of rescuing shelter dogs, providing job training skills and revitalizing the person with a disability,” says Pat. “This is done through proven balanced training methodology of repetition and testing, and through a comprehensive application process for someone to be partnered with a Canines for Service dog.”
Rick is adamant about positive training methods and has become an industry leader committed to preserving high standards of training. “We are the longest serving service-dog and pet therapy program provider in North Carolina and the only one that is fully accredited by Assistance Dogs International,” says Rick. “Canines for Service uses 100% rescue dogs for service-dog training and we do not, and never will, have a breeding program. We are here to serve and give back to those who need our services.”
Though the staff is only comprised of four employees, the organization functions with the support of over 400 volunteers who provide assistance with programs and services.
Canines for Service does not receive governmental funding and relies on donations from the community. “Canines for Service cannot do this alone; it takes a village,” states Pat. “We need volunteers willing to commit time and effort, we need financial supporters willing to invest in our mission, programs and services, and we need clients who are ready to change their lives and trust in us to help them with that journey.”
If you’d like to volunteer or would like more information about how you can help Canines for Service, contact them directly by calling (910) 362-8181 or visiting them at www.caninesforservice.org
Your support can be as easy as a walk in the park!
On March 25th, Canines for Service will be hosting their annual Walk and Dog Dash event at Hugh MacRae Park, Shelter #5 in Wilmington. It is a family and pet-friendly event including a walk, dog dash, pet photographs, vendors, and lots of activities. Registration opens at 10 a.m. and the program begins at 10:45 a.m. For more information, visit www.caninesforservice.org