Chris Hardy was training dogs in Afghanistan in 2006. While making a routine trip to the hospital to pick up supplies, he saw a toddler in a nurse’s lap. The girl looked to be about two years old and had burns on her face, head, and body. Chris and his dog, Dirk, walked up to the little girl and she reached out to Dirk. Chris sat down so he could be closer to her level. The girl loved petting Dirk and it made her happy.
Later, Chris was told that this child was severely burned by an IED and had been in the hospital for seven months. She never showed emotion: she did not cry; she did not laugh; she did not reach out to her caregivers. She was an emotionally empty shell. Just seeing and touching Dirk birthed a seemingly magical connection that pulled this little girl out of her hopelessness by reconnecting her to her lost emotions. Chris returned to the hospital with Dirk to see this girl as often as he could and never tired of watching her show emotion and connect to the people around her.
The hospital was abuzz about the transformation they had seen and the power of a dog to reach the hopeless. On one of his visits, a psychiatrist approached Chris and asked him if he and Dirk could visit with some military personnel. Chris was only able to make a few more visits to the hospital but knew that he wanted to use what he had learned to help those in need.
Even though he has PTSD, Chris has kept his passion to use dogs to help others. In 2014, Chris and his wife, Mirela, founded U.S. Kennels with the goal of matching rescue dogs to disabled veterans. In 2017, the training facility opened. Chris finds suitable dogs at Delmarva shelters and matches them to a Veteran. They become a team that works with the USK trainers for a year or more until the dog is a fully trained service dog. Even though not every dog or veteran is able to finish the program, Chris pushes on to help the next person that comes to him for help – inviting them to be a part of the U.S. Kennel’s family.