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How this Charlotte nonprofit is saving veterans' lives one dog at a time

All Aspects was founded by a Charlotte woman, Regina Hickey, who says her daughter's passion for dogs spiraled into a thriving nonprofit organization.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hercules, a Charlotte-area service dog, is headed for the sunshine state to become a Human Remains Detection Dog. 

The Labrador Retriever will join his handler, Rus Ruslander, and his current service dog, Bella, in search and rescue training in Sarasota, Florida. 

Ruslander, a former law enforcement officer and now search and rescue volunteer, was able to get Hercules thanks to a new local nonprofit, All Aspects Dog Training. 

All Aspects was founded by a Charlotte woman, Regina Hickey, who said her daughter Tess' passion for dogs spiraled into a thriving nonprofit organization. 

"I have a now 19-year-old daughter that has a passion for dogs and people, Hickey said. "Her passion for dogs led us to start a charitable non-profit and she loves veterans and has a gift for matching dogs to people." 

Hickey and her family have been training Hercules and 10 other dogs since they were just puppies. 

All Aspects works with reputable dog breeders, like Silver Bullet Labs, who either sell or donate their dogs to them, Hickey said. 

"We like to work with healthy dogs if we're going to put a lot of training into it if it retrieves items, ect you want to make sure you have a healthy dog," Hickey said. 

Once the dogs are fully trained, like Hercules, the dogs are then donated to either veterans or former law enforcement officers like Ruslander.   

"I think it's phenomenal," Ruslander said about Hickey's nonprofit, "I'd like to see more people do it, there's really a dire need for properly trained service animals.  

Hickey said the dogs she donates to local veterans have basically saved their lives. 

"If you could see the look on the veterans' faces when they get their dogs, it brings so much confidence back into their lives where no one understands them," Hickey said. "It just gives them confidence, freedom and allows them to go out into the world again."

Marcus Wilson, a veteran living in San Diego, received a service dog from All Aspects Dog Training. Wilson served 21 years in the Marine Corp. and was injured back in 2016 in Iraq from an IED explosion. 

From that attack, Wilson lost his left leg above the knee and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Wilson said the dog he received from All Aspects helps him to live an independent life. 

"They trained [Doc] to retrieve things, assist me when I'm walking, and to assists me after I fall," Wilson said. 

Wilson's dog has also helped him emotionally and socially.

"An added benefit is that he has boosted my confidence in public situations," Wilson said.

Once home in Florida, Hercules will join his newest sister in Human Remains Detection (HRD) training.

Ruslander said Hercules will have to first go through obedience training so he will be both hand and voice controlled. 

Ruslander then begins the rigorous HRD training. Which is exactly how it sounds. 

"We get actual human remains," Ruslander said. "There's no such thing as using artificial odors, it's the real thing or nothing."   

Ruslander and his team will gather bones, teeth, cremains and placentas. He said he'll even go to the doctor's office and gather an extra tube of his own blood to use for training. 

This kind of search and rescue procedure is really important because these dogs can sniff out human remains that a human might miss with their eyes. Ruslander said while they're jobs are crucial in their industry, it's also a great way to stimulate the brains of an active dog. 

"It's a fun thing," Ruslander said. "As human beings, we understand the tragedy of a loss of life, especially if it's a criminal case. To the dog it's a game, it's all fun, it's all positive.

Hickey said when it's time for her family to say goodbye to one of their trained service dogs, it can be difficult at first. But once the dogs meet their new owners, Hickey said her sadness turns into joy.  

"The excitement it brings to their faces and how it changes their lives and how Hercules is actually going to change a lot of people's lives,
Hickey said. "It's just amazing. It's difficult but it's very rewarding." 

All Aspects Training survives solely on sponsorships and donations from the community. Click here to learn more about the program and learn how you can help.

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