SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Call them "battle buddies."
Corinne Hurst uses the term to describe her husband, Matt, and his service dogs -- the one that retired a few years back and the 3-month-old now in training to help the Iraq War veteran -- but it could just as easily be used to describe husband and wife.
Matt and Corinne Hurst, of Finneytown, are at the forefront of a new service-dog program in Cincinnati called Rescued & Ready Inc., a nonprofit that places specially trained rescue dogs of many kinds with people of many needs.
Close to their Hursts' hearts, however, is the battle to serve both the injured veteran and the type of dog they believe has been through war when it comes to public perception: the blockheaded, muscular terriers known as "bully breeds."
Matt, 33, injured his back in Iraq in 2008 and feels the effects to this day, though he remains an Army National Guard specialist. Corinne, 29, is a mother and professional photographer by trade but a dog-lover by choice -- specifically, she loves dogs with a reputation she thinks is unearned. She said she was moved nearly to tears by a recent WCPO.com staff column that defended the dogs and urged care when using the term "pit bull."
"That was the first time I have ever seen a media outlet not only say pit bull is not a breed but (also) reported on the irresponsible nature of the media and the effects that the negative media has on the breed itself," Corinne Hurst said. She has rescued, fostered and trained dogs for about a decade.
Matt's first service dog, Princess, still lives with them. Tango, a male American pit bull terrier-mix puppy, will be his next one. Echo, Tango's sister from the same litter, will one day go to another veteran.
"My passion is the bully breeds and veterans." Corinne said. "Matching them with veterans and specifically combat-injured veterans for me, I think, is a partnership that is going to heal them a little bit. They're just very misunderstood groups of souls."
Mandy Franceschina is the founder of Rescued & Ready. She says she's known the Hursts for a few years from rescue circles and that they've worked more closely over the last few months as the nonprofit has ramped up. "They are a great source of knowledge" in the area of combat-veteran service dogs," she said.
Matt's injury came about when the driver of the trailing truck in a convoy he was traveling in swerved to miss something and hit one of the 12-foot, concrete-reinforced "T-walls" often found along Iraqi roads. The collision jammed a gun turret under his body armor.
He says he's not one to take pain medication unnecessarily and continues to serve "pretty much because of my own hardheadedness. I wasn't willing to put somebody else in my place to take that risk."
His love of a "bully breed" goes back to when he was 13. It continues today because of what a service dog can do to help him in his situation. For instance, his legs will sometimes go numb, and the pain can sometimes be all but unbearable.
"The best way I can put it is, it's kind of like if you had sunburn all over your body," he said. "You just want to be able to levitate in the air where nothing touches you.
"If I'm having a day where it's kind of starting to hurt but it's not to the really bad point, they can assist me more on that day so that I don't push myself to the point where it's hurting more."
There is something about his warrior past and present that is drawn to the dogs' demeanor.
"I don't know too many veterans that come back that aren't hyper-vigilant," said Matt, who works for Forward Edge, which offers IT support to local school systems. "(The dogs) are always trying to keep an eye on everything that's going on around them. In my experience, dogs have had a better judgment of character off of first meeting somebody than any person can have."
Corinne says Tango and Echo will be with them about a year. Dogs that are to become service dogs have to pass a national standard Canine Good Citizen test before entering advanced task training. An average service dog can run anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000 to feed, care for and train, but Rescued & Ready relies on donations to cover the cost so that those getting a dog pay nothing.
"For us to be able to match them free of charge, that's everything," she said. "Even if it's one dog at a time, one veteran at a time, one person at a time -- being able to get these service dogs into the hands of people that might not be able to get them otherwise."
Corinne admits to steering Matt into the rescue realm, but it wasn't a very long drive. When Tango and Echo came into their lives, Tango was tagged as the service dog and Echo was to be put up for adoption. It was Matt who said, "No, that's not happening."
"There's something about rescue dogs, that they've been through the wringer (and) they've been mistreated a lot of the time," Corinne said. "They don't have the love that they're supposed to have. So when they get it, there's just something about them they're that much more eager."