[embed-2]Working with nonprofit America’s Vet Dogs, the TODAY show, as part of their “Puppy with a Purpose” series, trained a pup to help physically and emotionally assist a veteran in need of a service dog. For more than a year, guide dog mobility instructor Olivia Poff trained black lab Charlie on the set of the show, and, yesterday, Charlie met his new forever owner, Air Force Combat Camera veteran and Lowcountry resident Stacy Pearsall.

You may recognize Pearsall’s name. She was at the helm of the Charleston Center for Photography; she’s behind the Veterans Portrait Project, a photo series that has captured the visages of vets from Charleston to Nevada; she currently serves on the Citadel’s advisory board for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences; she is one of two women to earn the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Military Photographer of the Year award, which she took home twice; and 15 of her photos, which were taken during her deployment in Iraq, are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery through Jan. 2018.

[embed-1] But it hasn’t been all commendations and glory for Pearsall. During her service, Pearsall was injured in Iraq by bomb blasts — twice.

In a 2013 CP article, Pearsall said: “I went through about 30-something procedures not only to fix my neck, but also seeing a neurologist about the traumatic brain injury.” The Air Force put her on temporary medical retirement, meaning she could no longer serve active-duty. “That was really, really heart-wrenching, heartbreaking,” Pearsall said. “I’d won Military Photographer of the Year for the second time, and to see everything I’d worked toward disintegrate in two seconds — that was worse than any of the physical pain I’d been going through up to that point.”[image-2]When Pearsall returned from service, the hits kept coming. In Dec. 2008 Post & Courier reported that “While healing from wounds suffered in Iraq, veteran combat photographer Stacy Pearsall looked forward to her first attempts at running in her neighborhood. Her anticipation turned to terror Thursday when a neighbor’s dog attacked her in the pre-dawn darkness.” The attack put Pearsall in the hospital, where she received stitches in her chest and arm; the dog was euthanized. In the article, Pearsall is quoted as saying, “I’m a real dog fan,” and she “hated that the dog had to be euthanized.”

Now, thanks to Charlie, the veteran, prolific photographer, and dog fan can continue her creative pursuits with confidence. When asked on air what Charlie will help her with, Pearsall said he will join her on the road as she continues her journey with the Veteran Portrait Project and that Charlie means “just a lot more independence, and empowerment.”

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