ALPHARETTA, Ga. - We've been honored at FOX 5 to work with Max, a golden retriever puppy we're teaching to become a service dog. We're partnering with Canine Assistants, a nonprofit giving you a behind the scenes look at the process. Eventually, once he's ready, Max will be able to help change the life of a service member struggling with mobility.
Max is still a year or so away from being able to help someone all the time, but recently, Good Day Atlanta’s Katie Beasley had the chance to fast forward our journey for a day and witness a local business man receive his new service dog. It's a very special moment that means so much to everyone involved.
LEARN MORE: Operation Max
Tucked back on a farm in Milton, you'll find Canine Assistants. It's a small group of people, who are doing big things.
"We focus on educating dogs and people so that they can improve one another's lives," explains Founder and Executive Director, Jennifer Arnold.
The organization has been teaching dogs and helping people with mobility problems for 25 years. Vincenzo Piscopo was paralyzed from the waist down after a herniated disc injury. Ever since he heard he'd been accepted for Canine Assistants, he couldn't wait for this day, what they call, "match day."
"I'm extremely excited, more excited than nervous. I think I was more nervous a couple weeks ago but I cannot wait to get the dog," Vincenzo says.
Canine Assistants does things a bit differently. Using the bond based approach, instead of the person picking out the dog, the dog actually chooses it's new owner.
"I certainly think that dogs who work to make people happy deserve themselves to be happy," adds Jennifer.
Martina, the first dog to meet Vincenzo, fell right in love. The two immediately began to bond.
"It is absolutely like the dog says, 'Where have you been? I've been waiting for you for so long' and you just see that sort of instant connection," Jennifer says.
Right away, Vincenzo says he knew, the feeling was mutual and that Martina was his new girl.
"It was like magic, it was incredible...it was like love and first sight," Vincenzo says.
"Can you bring that to me, Martina? Thank you so much," Vincenzo works with Martina to fetch. While physically, Martina can help Vincenzo by holding things, picking things up, and getting help, she will also help him much more emotionally.
"We go through ups and downs with our struggles and I think dogs help you see life in perspective and see the beauty of life," Vincenzo says. "I was injured late in life and I feel like dogs get it. You don't have to explain to them how you feel, they just get it and they don't care."
"I've been astonished with the miracle of the dogs is that they don't see disability," Jennifer adds.
Now Vincenzo and Martina will learn all about each other in a two week long recipient camp before beginning their long term relationship at home with his wife and four children. "Then they'll return to their real lives, but not alone anymore," Jennifer says.
Vincenzo is the Portfolio Innovation Group Director at Coca Cola. The company is planning a big welcome for Martina and say she will even become an official ambassador for them.