updated 04/21/2010 AT 4:09 PM ET
•originally published 04/21/2010 AT 4:00 PM ET
When Bryson Casey returned from a tour of duty through Iraq in 2005, he was ready to get on with his life. But when his car spun out as he drove to work one morning, leaving him a quadriplegic, everything changed. The 31-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., was now wheelchair-bound, and in need of help to perform daily tasks.
A caseworker assisting Casey with rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta suggested he apply to receive a service dog through Canine Assistants. Within a matter of six months, he was taken off the wait list and in November, received his pup, a Lab named Wagner.
“I didn’t know that a dog, as a companion, he would mean so much,” Casey tells PEOPLEPets.com. “He’s my best friend now … we work together every day.”
Stories like Casey’s will be highlighted tonight in the new PBS documentary, Through a Dog’s Eyes, narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. Spotlighting five inspiring people on their journey to receiving – and bonding with – their service dogs, the film closely examines the special relationship between people and their canines, as well as the teachings of Canine Assistants trainer Jennifer Arnold.
“When I first considered getting a service dog, I thought, ‘How am I supposed to take care of this animal?’,” Casey recalls. “The situation was new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect.” But he soon realized that Wagner could pick up dropped items, greet visitors and even bridge the social gap. “When people see him, they comment on how beautiful he is, and ask me questions about him,” Casey says. “Before Wagner, people ignored me, or tried to look the other way when they saw me.”
Casey spent two weeks at Canine Assistants, meeting dogs and learning simple commands with Arnold and Wagner. “The experience was humbling,” he shares. “Some people look at me and say I inspire them because of what I’ve been through, but when I looked at other recipients, they inspired me.” Someone who’s not so humble? Wagner! “He’s always smiling, always wagging his tail,” Casey laughs. “He likes to run around in the yard and play fetch … and he loves my fiancée’s undergarments.”
But regardless of what trouble Wagner may be causing with those unmentionables, his service to Casey so far has been invaluable. “I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to Jennifer, and the whole foundation,” he says. “They are truly amazing.”
Catch Through a Dog’s Eyes tonight on PBS at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings for channel information). To learn more about Canine Assistants, or to make a donation, visit the organization’s website. Do you have a service dog? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Meet more special dogs on PEOPLEPets.com:
Meet Baxter, the Star of MilkBone Ads Raising Money for Service Dogs
A Career Change Helps Chuckie and Chester Reach Their Full Potential as Therapy Dogs