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WILMINGTON, NC – Dog owners in need of a service animal in the Wilmington area can now train their pet themselves.
Rick and Pat Hairston of Four Paws and One Wake Up-NC run a 10-month training program that provides owners with a qualified service animal with no waiting list.
Demand for assistance dogs is currently outstripping supply and owners who need a pet can be turned away empty-handed. The Hairstons have been training service animals for 25 years and saw it as a solution to the problem, at least for Wilmington.
“We bring all of our years of experience in the service dog industry for the sole purpose of helping people gain the independence they desire through the use of a service dog,” Pat Hairston says.
Before being admitted to the training program, dogs are assessed to see if they are able to meet their owner’s disability needs.
“The dog will pass an assessment by us,” says Hairston. “Is he friendly with other dogs, is he afraid of loud noises, does he have the potential to do the job we ask him to do?”
James and Mandie Rytych own Mollie, who is only a year old and is learning to help James collect items. He suffered serious injuries to his neck and back while serving in the military overseas. James and Mollie already have a close bond, which only grows stronger as they train together.
“A service dog has dramatically changed his life,” says Mandie Rytych. “It has radically changed our family. It actually gave us something we didn’t think we’d have again which was a relaxed break.
When the program opened, they said it was perfect and started training at 10 months.
Parker is a 14 month old lifeguard who now trains with Roy and Rose Morgan. Roy is battling stage four cancer, and treatments limit his mobility and strength. Although they had no intention of using Parker as a service animal, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“We’ve always been dog lovers so being able to train our own service dog is really amazing,” says Roy Morgan. “We’ve had dogs our whole lives, but I’ve never felt that kind of connection with a dog until I did this.
By the time the owners have completed the program and the final assessment, they will have a highly valued partner at a much lower cost. The price of the program depends on the complexity of the skills to be taught and ranges between $ 3,000 and $ 7,000.