Rescuing Dogs Who Rescue Our Veterans
K9s For Warriors trains and matches service dogs with soldiers who suffer from PTSD, brain injuries
Ernie Slone |
Posted: September 6, 2014, 6 a.m. PST
On Sept. 11 people all around our country will pause to pay tribute to our soldiers, many of whom have given so much to fight for our freedom.
But there is a fight still being fought for these men and women, a battle to help them recover from injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Brett Simon, with his PTSD dog Reagan, and his mother, Shari Duval, help veterans recover from PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
One organization leading that fight is K9s For Warriors.
Shari Duval founded K9s For Warriors for a reason any mother could understand: She wanted to save her son’s life.
"My son, Brett Simon, had been a K9 police dog handler for 13 years,’’ Shari recalls. "After the 9/11 attacks Brett volunteered to go and fight in Iraq. But when he came home after two tours of duty, he was a different person.’’
The therapy that the U.S. military provided for Brett wasn’t working, and Shari was desperate to find something to help.
What Brett didn’t know at the time was that he was among the 1 in 5 returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — 520,000 veterans to date — who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms can include traumatic flashbacks and nightmares, memory problems, feelings of isolation and hopelessness. For too many, the only way out is suicide, which today is at record levels among our veterans.
But with the help of his family, Brett found his way "home” through Reagan, a Belgian Malinois shelter dog they rescued and trained to become his service dog. The dramatic change that dog brought to Brett inspired Shari to found K9s For Warriors to help the sons and daughters of others.
"We opened our doors three years ago and we now have 137 warriors trained in the field with their service dogs,’’ Shari says.
Today Brett is the organization’s director of K9 operations, helping other veterans find the road back to recovery. They call the dogs a "natural prescription’’ for dealing with PTSD and brain injuries. "Having that unconditional love of an animal can do wonderful things for a person,’’ Brett says.
As part of the program veterans spend three weeks living at the K9s For Warriors facility in Florida, where they train with their new dog partners and learn to re-enter civilian life again.
"With each one I see the transformation, from where they are when they arrive, to day 21 of them leaving, getting back to their loved ones, and especially to their kids,’’ Brett says. "We stay in touch with them and it is incredible to see how their lives are restored, seeing them post pictures with their families at football games, baseball games, getting out there coaching their kids. It brings them back to life again, and having the dog gives them a purpose, the responsibility of taking care of something else.’’
While some of the veterans have lost an arm or a leg, others have injuries that are not so visible.
"Not all wounds are physical,’’ Shari says. "Many of them have lost their self-confidence, people and certain sounds and sights haunt them,’’ Shari says. "They are on guard for everybody who has a backpack on.’’
Having the dog by their side makes all the difference. "The dog gives them the confidence, they have that buddy with them,’’ Shari adds. "We hit the reset button for them.’’
The program has become so successful that K9s For Warriors has a one-year waiting list to get service dogs.To promote this great cause and to help make dogs available to more veterans, Bayer Corp. has stepped up with funding to sponsor seven wounded warrior teams. In addition, through a social media campaign it is donating up to $10,000 worth of K9 Advantix II flea and tick medicine.
"What we love about K9s For Warriors is how much they value the human-animal bond,’’ says Lauren Dorsch, Bayer’s senior communications representative in Shawnee, Kansas. "What they are accomplishing is critical to the recovery of veterans and they are also saving the lives of shelter dogs.’’
To share the stories of the dogs and vets, Bayer created a website at www.myk9myhero.com, which features the sponsored teams and testimonials to how the rescued and retrained dogs have saved their lives. They are also Tweeting great stories daily at @Bayer4AnimalsUS
Today K9s For Warriors is able to train four to five teams a month, but thanks to some generous donors, in coming months they will be opening a new, 17,000-square-foot training facility in Nocatee, Fla., that will allow them to serve up to 16 warriors a month. "It will be the largest veterans PTSD and traumatic brain injury facility in the U.S.,’’ Shari says.
To staff the new, larger facility, they are hiring warrior graduates, giving jobs to veterans who can then help other veterans. "We are hiring trainers who are veterans or graduates to take the other vets out,’’ Brett explains. "Having a graduate who has a proven result right at their side, that makes a big difference when they take new warriors out into public and show them what they can do.’’
The attacks against our country that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, spurred many of these vets to answer a call to serve our nation. Today K9s For Warriors is answering the call of helping those vets.
"We just want people out there to know that there is help,’’ Shari says. "Someone someplace has a son or daughter, niece or nephew, and may not know about our resource.’’To learn more about K9s For Warriors visit k9sforwarriors.org
Read More Editor Off-Leash with DOG FANCY editor Ernie Slone>>
More Amazing Service Dogs
Give us your opinion on Rescuing Dogs Who Rescue Our Veterans
Login to get points for commenting or write your comment below
Get New Captcha