HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hub City Service Dog program provides dogs to families with special needs. Training sessions begin with puppies, and the dog will eventually go to a home that it forms the strongest bond with.
"I got in the program because I had a 20-month-old Lab that I had to put down in December that was a service dog," Jeff Ferris of Hub City Service Dogs said. "She was trained to go into schools and settle them down after disasters and stuff like that. You know it's just a big thing, and a big need."
"For me, it's more about my daughter, she's two years old, she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis three days after she was born," said Olivia Jones, Kennel Technician at Animal Medical Center. "It's one of those things I want to do everything I can, to make her life as big as I can."
The bond the dog and Olivia's daughter have is unbreakable.
"I've had Dallas since he was about ten weeks old. And he's about 7 months now, so him and Vivian are best friends," Jones said. "They run around the house together. He'll come between everybody and sit by her, he sleeps in her room. They are 100% connected to each other."
For families waiting to receive a service dog, the anticipation for the new addition is quickly mounting.
"I have three boys with autism; I have twins that are 8 and a younger brother that is 7," Chelsea McKinley said. "My aunt heard more about the program and contacted Mr. Howell. This will be life changing for us to have a dog."
It isn't easy to quickly obtain a service dog. There is often a waiting list, and the price can be a bigger obstacle. Each dog can cost between $7,000 to $20,000 per dog, depending on their abilities.
To help offset some of the expense, the Animal Medical Clinic is selling raffle tickets to raise money for the cause. The winner can receive a 2015 Mustang, an F-150, or $10,000.
"The great thing about these dogs [is that] they're proven to help all these kids with terminal illnesses, diabetes, and stuff," said Jones. "It makes them have something to work for."
"My children are non-verbal, which means that their speech is limited; it's not non-existent but it is limited," McKinley said. "They're ecstatic, they are really excited. It was prophetic, almost, the way he spoke about the dog, my son, and it'll just be a huge blessing to us, I feel like it was meant to be.
The drawing will take place May 26. To purchase a raffle ticket, stop by the Animal Medical Clinic on Hardy Street, Oak Grove Plaza Package store, or call 601-299-8420.
"Our goal is to reach out to as many people as we can help; kind of coming at it from a mission stand point to try to serve," said Bubba Howell, training director at Hub City Service Dogs. "There are places across the country that requires money up front, down payment up front. We're working toward making it to where people who have the means to be able to make that type of a down payment can have access to this type of piece of equipment basically that can help them in their daily lives and make their lives more fruitful."