When disasters occur in the Southwest United States, Stephanie Ayers and one of her service dogs are often among the first responders.
“We have to be invited as part of the FEMA protocols," Ayers said. "We’ve served at the West, Texas fertilizer explosion, the fires in Noble, Oklahoma, the tornados in Moore, Oklahoma, and one of the dogs in our group served during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.”
The WCU-Dallas assistant professor and registered nurse has been training service dogs for more than 14 years.
“My dogs are near and dear to my heart,” she shared. “[One of my dogs] Jenny has been a service dog since she was a year and a half and is the only disaster stress-trained dog of her breed in the country.”
Ayers worked for years at the Red Cross in disaster relief, but decided while recovering in the hospital from back surgery that she wanted to switch gears.
“I was thinking, 'What am I going to do when I grow up?'… I’m going to be a nurse!” Ayers shared. “And that’s how that journey began.”
One of Ayers' most-rewarding moments from teaching, she said, was seeing a former student and recent WCU-Dallas graduate be hired as her replacement at a local hospital.
“I am really making a difference and creating the next generation of nursing,” she said.