WILMINGTON – A program called Paws4People, piloted by UNCW, is pairing disabled people with service dogs in training.
UNCW alumna Danielle McPhail has worked with service dogs for years, and she's seen the impact a canine companion can have on those with disabilities.
"I've met people who stand in the corner and have you have to drag them out from place to place, and once they have their dog they are completing every day tasks," she said.
Dogs are trained from puppies all the way up to adulthood. When they finish the program, go to help those with physical and mental disabilities as well as veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It's training that helps the students just as much as the dogs' future owners.
"They're using their academic course of study, like recreation therapy or psychology, and applying that to our clients who need those skills, along with the dogs,” Course instructor Kyria Henri said.
While the pups may make it look easy, becoming a therapy dog is tough work. Most train for two years, in every environment.
"We'll take them to a UNCW basketball game and expose them to three or four thousand screaming fans," Chris Lantz, director of the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences, said.
Soon, they will be fetching the hearts of those in need.
"You're seeing your hard work pay off when these clients tell you that their lives have literally been saved by the dog that you helped train," McPhail said.
Once dogs become available, potential clients submit applications and dogs are then placed in the best possible homes to act as service companions.