K9s For Warriors celebrated the graduation of its 300th service dog team at the organization’s most recent graduation, held April 20 at American Legion Post 233 in Palm Valley.
“We are very proud to have served 300 veterans,” K9s for Warriors CEO Rory Diamond said. “With so many veterans taking their own lives, the mission of our organization is critical.”Six years after K9s For Warriors served its first veteran, the milestone was reached on a night in which the organization honored the dedication and commitment of nine warriors and the service dogs with which they’d been paired. The Ponte Vedra-based nonprofit trains and pairs rescued service dogs with military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma as a result of military service post-9/11.
Before the graduation, K9s For Warriors also celebrated its five-year partnership with American Legion Post 233. Founder Shari Duval reminisced about her organization’s humble beginnings in a 900 square-foot house, where the nonprofit used to “shove three to four warriors” into the building, she said.
At first, the nonprofit held its graduation ceremonies in front of the house’s garage, Duval explained, until the American Legion offered to host the events at its nearby post. In its first few years, K9s For Warriors held approximately 200 graduations at the veterans’ facility.
“Year after year, in one way or another, you have been there,” said an emotional Duval. “We’ll never forget your graciousness, your generosity, your love and your support.”
In turn, representatives from the post honored Duval, who announced in March that she would be retiring, handing off her duties as board president to her son, Brett Simon. The local veterans presented Duval with a plaque recognizing her service to the community and nation, as well as a certificate of honorable mention from their organization’s past commanders recognizing her as a lifetime, honorary member of the post.
“We’re like family,” said Dan Wortman, commander of American Legion Post 233. “We’ve been helping them out. They’ve been helping us. Veterans help veterans.”