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10 Rising Hearts: Student volunteers at Smoky Mountain Service Dogs

"She is very passionate about service dogs and about educating the public about service dogs," Heather Wilkerson said.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — A puppy named Duncan is learning critical skills for his future as a mobility assistance service dog for a wounded veteran.

Five professional trainers at Smoky Mountain Service Dogs teach them about 60 specific skills. More than 180 volunteers round out their development. 

Laura Porter takes dogs to public places like shopping malls to socialize them. She also volunteers on the community events team and performs a critical task as a puppy raiser. 

Credit: WBIR
Smoky Mountain Service Dogs trains dogs to work with veterans

The University of Tennessee senior is co-fostering Duncan. For now, he stays with her on the weekends.

"In the spring he'll be with me more on a full-time basis. He'll end up going to class with me and to school with me and pretty much all my errands," she said. 

Credit: WBIR
Laura Porter takes dogs like Duncan to public places like a shopping mall to socialize them

Heather Wilkerson is the Smoky Mountain Service Dogs Canine Program Manager. She appreciates the energy and commitment Laura brings to the organization. She said Laura is overseeing a pilot project to encourage University of Tennessee students and faculty to get involved with the service dog organization.

Credit: WBIR
Laura Porter is working on a pilot program to recruit staff and students at U.T. to get involved

"She is very passionate about service dogs and about educating the public about service dogs," she said. 

Laura Porter appreciates the positive impact a service dog can have on the quality of life of a wounded veteran.

Credit: WBIR
Picking up a dropped credit card is one of about 60 skills professional trainers teach

She enjoys volunteering and interacting with dogs like Duncan.

"If I'm on campus with a dog, even though people can't touch them or interact with them, people will look at them and smile. And so knowing that is bringing light to someone's day. I like that aspect of it but also how bouncy and joyful and easy to please they are," she said. 

We want to showcase students who reach beyond their schools and families to help make our community better. To nominate a student, please send an email describing them and their community service to 10Hearts@wbir.com

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