Locally-based nonprofit K9s for Warriors held an open house June 29 at its Camp K9 facility in Nocatee.
With tour guides and trainers on site, locals had the opportunity to tour the Camp K9 facilities, including the warriors' clubhouse and living quarters. Located off Palm Valley Road, the training camp helps to train veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma in the use of service dogs. Two days prior to the open house, a ground-breaking ceremony was held at Camp K9 for a new training facility for warriors and their service dogs. The facility will help to prepare warriors for various situations they may face in public with their canine companions.
Founded in 2011, the idea for K9s for Warriors originated with Shari Duval, whose son Brett Simon served in Iraq as a military dog trainer and returned home suffering from PTSD. Since then, the program has had more than 300 warrior graduates, each paired with a companion for life.
Greg Wells, a warrior trainer at Camp K9, is also a graduate of the K9s for Warriors program and knows firsthand the adverse effects of PTSD.
"I served in Iraq and Afghanistan," Wells said. "I was sent home for PTSD, and so once I started going to the doctor, and they put me on medication, I was taking 14 pills a day. I felt like a zombie. I felt like I needed a companion, or something; something to make a change."
Wells said he first learned about the K9s for Warriors program from his wife, who had come across the organization's Facebook page.
"I checked them out and I applied, because I couldn't stand feeling like a zombie anymore,” he said. “I couldn't stand living pill to pill, and I couldn't stand the way I was and the way I was treating my family."
Since completing the program, Wells said he can enjoy going out with his family again.
"I can take my wife and daughter out to dinner,” he said. “We can have date night again. Something that I love to do is go to the movies, and I couldn't do it before. But I can go to the movies again, and I can have my own downtime, and I can feel like a normal person."
Wells now draws from his own experience to help train other warriors at Camp K9. It can take a few days for warriors to truly start bonding with their dogs, he advised, but once they do, it makes all the difference.
"Sometimes you see it really quick, sometimes you don’t see it until the second week because they haven’t bought off on the idea of being happy," Wells said. "Once they realize that they don’t have to carry that stress, that they can let the dog do it, they start to really improve."
As for K9s for Warriors, Wells said: "It's a great organization. You don't just come here and get a dog. You get a family."