NORTH CHARLESTON (WCSC) - Good team work takes practice. After meeting only two days ago, Air Force veteran Rick Hayes and his new service dog Malachi are getting along quite well.
Hayes said, "I figured I would come in and there's a dog trained and ready to go and I would just learn the commands and everything would be great, but it's a bigger process than that."
Hayes and Malachi are going through a week of bonding activities. Malachi grew up at the consolidated Naval Brig in North Charleston, a prison for service members who committed a crime while in the military. He now knows nearly 100 commands.
The program, Canines for Service is about 9 to 14 months long. The dogs are all rescued from the shelter. They go through personality tests and are matched with a trained prisoner who will be with the dog 24/7. It's a deal where both can get a second chance and the prisoners can give back to a veteran in need.
Rick Hairston President/CEO of Canines for Service said, "The veterans were very healthy and fit when they went off to serve our country. What we can't do is I can't replace that leg, I can't replace the burn, but if we can make their lives a little bit simpler as close to normal as their life was before they left, that would be the goal of the organization."
Malachi will help take some of the burden off Hayes' wife, who can't be home all the time.
Hayes said, "I guess the things he's going be able to help me do is going to help relieve a lot of the pain. The bending, the stooping, those type of things, they hurt."
Hayes isn't paralyzed but does rely on a wheelchair.
"It was a disc that ruptured in my back and it pinched my spinal cord but it relates back to my military service. I hurt my back while I was in the service," said Hayes.
An injury 23 years ago changed his life, now Malachi will change it again.
Hayes gets to take Malachi home this Saturday, March 23rd. A prisoner interested in the training program must have 12 to 15 months left on his or her sentence and no discipline problems within the last 6 months. Each prisoner is certified through the Department of Labor. It's the only program in the country with this certification.
All of the money needed to run the program is donated. The dogs are used for veterans not just with physical challenges, but also with mental or emotional ones like PTSD. These services are free to veterans who are approved for the program.