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Smoky Mountain Service Dogs moves dog graduation ceremonies online

Instead of passing the leash to service dogs' new owners in a graduation ceremony, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs is posting photos online.

LOUDON COUNTY, Tenn. — Several organizations, businesses and institutions needed to adapt how they operated due to the COVID-19 pandemic; Smoky Mountain Service Dogs made changes too.

They are still training service dogs for military veterans who need physical and emotional support. However, they had to change how they handle graduation ceremonies when a dog finishes its training. Now, they are posting photos of the dogs and their new owners to their website.

Smoky Mountain Service Dogs used to organize a public ceremony when a dog graduated from its program. During the ceremony, the leash would be passed to the dogs' new owners.

"We'll probably graduate another two or three more wounded veterans before the year is out, so we're excited," Mike Kitchens said, the founder of Smoky Mountain Service Dogs. "Our new facility should allow us to double the number of wounded veterans that we can assist."

A new center for the nonprofit is still under construction, but officials said they plan to open it soon and will train even more dogs.