Pat Hairston remembers exactly when she knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She was volunteering for Canines For Service in 2002. That’s when she met a man training with his first service dog.
“He said he had a great evening with his service dog, and that he had fallen,” Hairston said. “Usually our hearts go into our throat when we hear that. But he said the dog almost immediately got him back into bed. He said that it usually took him two hours to get up after a fall on his own.”
Such stories are the norm at Canines For Service. Based in Wilmington, North Carolina, CFS pairs those in need with service dogs. Hairston and her husband, Rick, work to rescue former shelter dogs. Then CFS retrains those same dogs as highly attentive and accommodating service animals.
Hairston describes how service dogs aren’t magic cure-alls for her clients’ lives, “but it may be better in some small way. They’re able to go to their child’s soccer game, or to the grocery story, or out to dinner with their wife.”
At first glance, the story sounds made for Hollywood, happy endings and all. But the reality of America’s perception of service dogs is much murkier. For one, there’s increasing scrutiny in Washington, D.C., about whether they have any tangible effect for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (they do). But another factor, just as dangerous, is the growing number of service dog “impostors.”
“In recent years, there’s been such a high rate of fakes,” Hairston said. “They purchase fake IDs and [service dog identification] vests to bring their dogs wherever they go. These dogs are usually ill-trained and sometimes behave aggressively to other dogs. The person on the other end of the leash doesn’t have any control.”
Because of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, someone with a service animal usually cannot be turned away from a business or public place. The caveat is that the ADA doesn’t require service animal identification. Despite these public qualms, CFS goes out of its way to educate local businesses about the legal aspects behind service animals.
“We can’t do it on a grand scale, but we can do what needs to be done,” Hairston said. “This is truly a 24/7 business. You don’t step away from it easily. Something is constantly going on.”
We established the Click & Pledge Foundation in May 2017 with one purpose in mind: tell the untold stories. Canines For Service has been a Click & Pledge Cause for several years. When Hairston first learned about the Click & Pledge Foundation’s first filming project, titled “Home,” she applied for the chance to tell CFS’ story with a documentary.
“Once Bethany and the foundation team were here and filming, you could breathe a sigh of relief.”
— Pat Hairston
Program Director, Canines For Service
In turn, once we learned more about CFS, we leaped at the opportunity to help tell it to a wider audience.
“The word ‘home’ can mean different things to different people,” said Shirin Zohdi, the Click & Pledge Foundation’s CEO. “While our first thought is often of a physical location, a home can be much more than simply four walls, a roof and a warm bed. For wounded veterans who are often battling traumatic memories and unease in their own homes, and the frightened and abandoned animals waiting in shelters for an uncertain fate, ‘home’ can mean a second chance at life.”
For Bethany Teague — our in-house Storyteller, director, and North Carolina native — the most important component to the foundation is yielding a story with tangible results.
“I think it’s one thing to have a lot of statistics or to tout what the organization can do,” Teague said, “but the evidence really lies within the people the organization is helping.”
That critical component was enough evidence for us to partner with Canines For Service. We worked together with CFS to create a documentary titled “Project Home: The Next Battle.” Filmed in North Carolina and Virginia, “Project Home: The Next Battle” details Canines For Service’s work, and how the nonprofit helped change three veterans’ and their service dogs’ lives.