The Petco Foundation awarded a $90,000 grant to K9s for Warriors at the nonprofit’s most recent graduation, held Dec. 15 at the organization’s training facility in Nocatee.
Five veterans graduated from the K9s for Warriors training academy following the presentation of the Petco Foundation donation, which derives from its annual Helping Heroes fundraising campaign conducted in partnership with Natural Balance Pet Foods. During the campaign each October, Petco invites customers to donate in stores across the country to support service and therapy animals and affiliated organizations. Karen Meader, Petco Foundation regional program manager, said K9s for Warriors stood out as a deserving organization.
“They’re training these dogs that are going to be able to impact the lives of service members all over the country,” said Meader. “It’s a huge service they do, and we were proud to invest in them.”
The Ponte Vedra-based organization 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.
To date, K9s for Warriors has matched 267 veterans with service dogs. Through a three-week training program, veterans join with other veterans to learn how to become dog handlers and readjust to civilian life. The goal is for warriors to graduate from the program and return to their lives with newfound dignity and independence.
“They’re getting up, they have a routine, they’re going out, and they’re going back into the public,” said Shari Duval, founder and president of K9s For Warriors. “They’re learning they can do that with their dogs where they wouldn’t do it before. It’s like hitting a light switch. All of the sudden, the light is on. We call it giving them a new leash on life.”
The nonprofit plans to use the Petco Foundation grant to help support a class of veterans and their service canines in completing the organization’s training academy. The funds will also help pay for the dogs’ medical care.
“We will use it directly for dogs and warriors,” said Rory Diamond, executive director of K9s For Warriors. “It’s not going to anything else. It’s going directly to the program to get more dogs through the door and to pair them with more warriors that need them.”
Duval said the investment also provides the organization with added credibility.
“It’s huge,” she said. “To be associated with such an amazing company of such stature means they know our work is good, or they wouldn’t have even looked at us. We’re so grateful for the money.”
Duval started K9s for Warriors in 2011 after her son Brett – a bomb dog handler – returned home from Iraq with extreme PTSD. With 22 veteran lives being lost each day to suicide, she recognized that there was a need to treat the epidemic, and she also noticed that Brett was only comfortable around dogs. Duval surmised that service dogs may be the treatment these veterans need. What started out as an idea developed into a passionate nonprofit organization committed to saving the lives of rescue dogs and military heroes alike.
Diamond said the Petco Foundation grant will allow them to push forward strongly in this effort.
“We know that service dogs work,” he said, “and we are proud that Petco is joining us in our commitment to saving animals in need – which are often homeless or on the brink of euthanasia – by giving them a new purpose in life in a loving home.”