When Denise Parmentier rescued Tucker, a basset hound found wandering the streets with a pack of stray dogs, she had no idea her new pet would one day make an impact on hundreds of people's lives.
"He was a throwaway," Parmentier said. "He was trotting down a dirt road, and one of my girlfriends saw him. She called, and all the dogs ran away but him. He came over and jumped right in the car."
Parmentier owned basset hounds her entire life. She said her British mother passed on a love of "hounds and horses," and they began adopting basset hound puppies from their neighbors.
"They say that basset hounds are stupid, but really, that stems a lot from their stubbornness," Parmentier said. "But they're very food-motivated. Right from the first basset, I started training. We take the food, like a hotdog. My poor mother – I would take the hot dog and drag it all over the carpet so they could scent it and find it, and it really evolved from there."
Parmentier said each basset hound she owned taught her more and more about the breed, but Tucker was special from the start. Most basset hounds, she said, are relaxed, easy-going dogs. But Tucker, in addition to being exceedingly clever and easy to train, was also highly energetic.
"He just wouldn't stay still," Parmentier said.
Tucker's high energy might have seemed like an inconvenience, but it actually ended up pulling Parmentier through a very dark time in her life.
Parmentier's home in Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Charlie in 2004. It took roughly two years for the insurance to get sorted out, and she was working as a paralegal while staying with a friend in Arizona because she had "no place to go."
"One day, one of my girlfriends says to me, 'Denise, why don't you check out the horse towns? You love horses,'" Parmentier said.
After living for some time in the desert in Arizona, Parmentier greatly missed the East Coast. She began looking into horse towns in the Southeast, and stumbled upon Aiken.
"I knew right away this was the place," Parmentier said.
However, things didn't go smoothly after settling into her new home. Her basset hound she'd owned at the time passed away, she still missed her home in Florida, and she was temporarily out of work.
Then along came Tucker and his boundless energy, which Parmentier knew she had to do something about.
While watching "The Dog Whisperer" on TV, Parmentier learned about how pack walks with other dogs can benefit social dogs like Tucker, who loved meeting new people and other dogs. Parmentier decided to contact some of her friends who owned dogs and asked if they wanted to go on regular dog walks around Aiken.
As word began to get out about their walks, more and more people asked to join in. Parmentier decided to form a Facebook group and invite the general public to go on dog walks, which was how her group, Aiken Dog Walks, was formed.
"My group grew ... and I went searching around the internet for more people," Parmentier said. "And you'll find with each event that I do, more and more people want to join in. So now, we're up to about 880 people."
Despite the massive size of the group, Parmentier said 880 people usually don't show up for the events. The group can vary from as little as 5 people with dogs to 75, and Parmentier usually chooses walks in the historic district of Aiken where people can make stops and learn about the city's history on their route.
The group, which is open to the public and free to join, allows people to exercise their dogs, meet new people, and socialize their pets. For Parmentier, it helped her get out in the community and meet people after loosing everything in a tragic storm.
In addition to leading Aiken Dog Walks, Tucker has been trained by Parmentier as a therapy dog. She takes him to visit local nursing homes and schools, where first-graders can practice their literary skills by reading stories to Tucker.
"Tucker helped to launch me into that world," Parmentier said.