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JUST ADD HOPE: Carolina Canines

READ MORE: JUST ADD HOPE: Carolina Canines
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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- We often hear from viewers who want to see more coverage of positive things going on in our community. In an effort to do this, we are showcasing the people and groups doing good around our area and how you can get involved. The world can be changed if you "just add hope."

Carolina Canines is an organization made up of volunteers who train service dogs for people around our area and around the country who are disabled or need therapy.

"By doing this, we're giving back to some people who may not have been dealt an even hand,” Carolina Canines Founder Rick Hairston said. “By doing that, we're able to actually change their life and make their life a little better and easier to get along with."

Hairston started Carolina Canines 15 years ago with one goal in mind: to train dogs for disabled individuals like Diane Godwin.

"They give you a sense of independence,” said Godwin, who suffers from Diabetes, a rare blood disease and a degenerative disk disease among others. “They make you feel like you're a human being again. Because, when you have so many illnesses, after a while, you lose a sense of who you are as a person. It's almost like you're not you anymore; you're all these illnesses."

Like all Carolina Canines, Godwin’s dog Issachar knows 90 different skills, including doing the laundry and fetching food and water from the fridge. The organization runs primarily on volunteers, and most of the dogs are rescues who have been abandoned. People who train the dogs take them into their homes and make a two to three year commitment until the dog is ready for service. Dogs trained here in Wilmington go to disabled civilians all over the southeast.

Military prisoners in Charleston, South Carolina train dogs who are specifically given to wounded veterans all over the country. Hairston said volunteers must be dedicated and selfless.

"They have to have a willingness to provide something for somebody else that's never going to be able to be reciprocated,” Hairston said. “They're never going to be able to expect it. They're going to get nothing out of this other than the warm fuzzy feeling knowing that you've been able to change somebody's life."

Hairston understands not every dog-lover has the time to train a service dog but says Carolina Canines needs volunteers for everything. Volunteers Walter and Katherine Engle started training Simeon and adopted him when they learned his allergies would not allow him to be a full-time service dog. Simeon now serves as a therapy dog: bringing hope, joy and comfort to nursing homes, hospice patients and children.

"Dogs don't make a decision whether they love you or not,” Walter said. “They just simply love you all the time. They're there when you need them."

"They seem to know when you need their love,” Katherine said. “That's a great thing because that's really what we need to do is spread the love a little bit."

"He'll sit and he'll look at me like, 'oh, mom, you're so special,’” Godwin said. “I know I’m not, but he thinks I am, and that makes me feel good."

The service dogs are valued at $40,000 each. Clients who are picked to receive a dog pay nothing, but they must first apply and meet certain criteria.

For more information on how you can get involved with Carolina Canines and their various training and therapy programs visit: http://www.carolinacanines.org/

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