"One of the greatest gifts is serving others. I have committed my life to the service of people with disabilities to meet their needs with the highest quality service dog possible. As a person who uses a service dog myself, I understand the need for these incredible animals and the gift they are to the people we serve."
- Rick Hairston, Founder
Having worked in the service dog industry for nearly 30 years, I co-founded and successfully ran Canines for Service for over 25 years in Wilmington, North Carolina building a national organization that focused on quality over quantity. My life changed the day my wife and I were abruptly removed from our roles. Pat and I knew we still had more to give to the industry we have grown to love and dislike at the same time. As experienced professionals in the service dog industry, including Rick serving five years on the Board of Directors for Assistance Dogs International, it is our responsibility to prepare the next generation of service dog trainers and providers to meet the needs of people with disabilities with quality trained service dogs that reliably perform the skills needed to serve their person.
Teaming up with a newly formed service dog provider, Four Paws and a Wake Up based in New Mexico gives us the opportunity to mentor the team and instill sound training practices that have worked for many years. While many are looking forward to their retirement years, we are looking forward to passing our knowledge along to a team that wants to be a leader in the industry.
My experience in raising and training service dogs began with several years of volunteer service for an internationally known service dog organization in St. Louis, Missouri. Upon moving to Wilmington, there were no service dog organizations in southeastern North Carolina. Understanding the great need people with physical disabilities have for quality trained service dogs, and with prayerful consideration, he began a service dog organization alongside my former wife. The organization was born out of our belief that God was calling us to establish a program, not only as a service organization but also as a mission to serve others with Christ-like compassion.
Pat worked for over 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry. After moving to Wilmington, not ready to retire or return to corporate, she searched for opportunities to serve others. In 2002, she found the prior organization at a local festival. Dogs and people with disabilities were a sure fit for her. Pat began volunteering and then started writing grants and joined the team as a staff member serving for several years before she and I married in 2009. Side-by-side we grew the organization to a nationally recognized and awarded organization building upon the principles of quality over quantity, integrity, compassion, and trust.
In the next several years the goals are to establish Four Paws and a Wake Up as a compassionate, quality-based provider of service dogs, to help establish the site in New Mexico and achieve accreditation with Assistance Dogs International, continue a legacy of service to others.