At a Smoky Mountain Service Dog graduation ceremony, there’s rarely a dry eye in the house as the audience watches the multi-media presentation featuring family photos of a smiling youngster, who grows into a proud warrior—and then bravely copes with injuries that have forever changed his or her life. There are also smiles, as the screen turns to images of a cute puppy that has grown to become a mature, able service dog. Known as the “Passing of the Leash,” the ceremony is an emotional event that celebrates the successful completion of training for both dog and veteran. It also honors those who have made this day possible. Sponsors, trainers and volunteers are all part of the ceremony, in which the dog moves from one person to the next for a final good-bye, until the leash is passed to its “forever” partner. In a fitting celebration, hundreds of supporters turn out to honor the veteran; and a host of organizations and individuals contribute their time and talents to show their appreciation in their own way. For instance, under the leadership of Arliss Barber, the Tellico Village Quilters “Quilt of Valor” group presents a patriotic quilt to every SMSD recipient. “Most of the people who work on these quilts have a connection with the military,” Arliss commented. “They know what it’s like to have family members in the service and think of their own experiences when making the quilt.” If you, or someone you know, might benefit from the assistance of a Smoky Mountain Service Dog, further information on the application process is available at www.smokymountainservicedogs.org CHEERS AND TEARS Appreciation and Support Shown at “Passing Of The Leash” Ceremony “Carving and decorating a cane can take weeks, but it is a labor of love.” BOB UNDERWOOD Bob Underwood, a wood carver from Sharps Chapel, Tennessee, presents each recipient with a hand carved and custom-decorated Eagle Head Cane. Each cane tells the story of the veteran’s career. “Carving and decorat- ing a cane can take weeks,” Bob explained, “but it is a labor of love.” Don and Valerie Whaley, who own and operate Natural Pet Supply stores in Knoxville and Johnson City, were so moved by SMSD’s mission that at every graduation they award the veteran a certificate for free dog food for the life of the dog. These, and many others, proffer their gifts as a way of saying, “Thank you for your service.”