Prompted by the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, Clay Luthy joined the Air Force in January 2002.
As a C-130 loadmaster stationed at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, Luthy transported cargo to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. But in 2006, according to KTXS, Luthy injured both of his knees.
Luthy was required to have five surgeries, and as a result of his injuries he could not bend his left knee.
Unable to reenlist, Luthy took a job as a handyman. Around that same time, Luthy got Charlotte, a golden retriever puppy. She wasn't meant to be a service dog, but Luthy realized how much she was helping him. He tells KIDY:
“I got her as a puppy. And she was never supposed to be a service dog. I found out a couple years ago she was alerting me and I didn’t even know it.”
Ten-year-old Charlotte has been by his side ever since as a medical alert dog. By hooking a handle to her service dog vest, Luthy has even used Charlotte as an alternative to a cane.
Luthy's left knee was rebuilt six months ago; the surgery left him unable to kneel and thus unable to perform many of his handyman duties.
He knew he had to find a new career, one that would allow Charlotte to come to work with him. It was his wife who gave him the idea to check out Lowe's:
“I was trying to figure out where I could go that would be a good fit and it wouldn’t mind having Charlotte, and my wife said I was at Lowe’s so much anyway, I might as well get a job there.”
Knowing that Luthy was the best candidate for the job, human resources manager Jay Fellers says the company immediately went through the hiring process. Charlotte, Fellers says, was an added bonus:
“They were the best person for the job. So, we went through the interview process and Clay and his own merit won the job. And we knew he was gonna make a great employee— we just got the benefit of getting Charlotte right along with him.”
Lowe's, Luthy learned, not only allows service dogs but also allows shoppers to bring their four-legged friends so long as they are leashed.
On Sunday, Charlotte's presence in the store caught shopper Judy Rose by surprise:
She shared a photo of Luthy and Charlotte, writing:
“I love Abilene Lowes, way to go! This is a disabled vet who struggled to get a job because he needs his service dog! Lowes hired them BOTH!!”
Her post received a tremendous response, and a humble Luthy says it's all Charlotte's doing.
At ten years old, Charlotte is nearing retirement age. When she retires, Luthy will enlist the help of a new service dog, a 6-month-old Labrador retriever named Lola.
Service dogs not only provide medical alert and mobility services to veterans, but they also help veterans cope with symptoms of PTS. Unfortunately, Veterans Affairs does not pay for service dogs trained to help with symptoms of PTS, and those in need of them often have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to acquire one.
Veteran Cole Lyle is advocating for the passage of the PAWS Act, a bill that establishes a pilot program whereby veterans who have tried, unsuccessfully, other forms of treatment would be qualified to receive a trained service dog.
American Humane's National Director of Humane Research and Therapy, Dr. Amy McCullough says Luthy and Charlotte's story is an important narrative in the push to not only enable veterans to get service dogs, but in the need for them to be properly trained. She tells Independent Journal Review:
“This story underscores the need for service dogs to be well-trained in order to mitigate his/her owner’s disability, but also importantly, to interact safely with the public that may encounter the dog as exemplified here. Because there are no nationally accepted service dog training standards, the quality and behavior of service dogs can vary widely. To address this issue, American Humane has launched a new initiative to establish training and credentialing standards that will ensure veterans’ access to properly trained, lifesaving PTSD service dogs and improve access to all public spaces.”
For Charlotte's part, Luthy says she “knows the difference between her service vest and her Lowe’s vest.”
As for her new job? “She loves it.”