Carl Cricco is the CEO of K9s For Warriors and has had the role for the past year. Having grown up in the New York city area, he and his family enjoy all that the First Coast has to offer and helping K9s For Warriors continue to achieve its mission of providing support to veterans locally.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I was born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey, and spent most of my life in the New York city area.
Prior to joining K9s, I worked at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as a senior vice president of marketing, ensuring that the stories from that day were never forgotten.
Living just blocks from the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, that day left an indelible mark, as it did for many. I have spent much of my career ensuring Americans never forget 9/11.
At K9s For Warriors, I am committed to ensuring that those who fought in conflicts resulting from that day and others are also not forgotten.
Before taking on the role of chief executive officer, I was the chief marketing and development officer at K9s for two years, effectively sharing the incredible impact of the K9s’ mission on both veterans and dogs, also increasing revenues by 70% in a one-year period.
I have spent the last 10 years in executive leadership, primarily in marketing, with previous work featured by the Wall Street Journal and Advertising Week.
Early in my career, I worked at leading media companies, including ABC News, and hold a B.A. from New York University and an M.B.A. from New York University Stern School of Business, where I specialized in marketing.
More than anything, I am a family man, spending my free time with my two sons and amazing wife, Emily.
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How long have you been involved with K9s For Warriors?
Three years. Two as chief marketing & development officer and one as chief executive officer.
What are your goals and objectives as CEO of K9s For Warriors?
The mission of K9s For Warriors is simple – to end veteran suicide through the healing power of service dogs. My goal is to continue fulfilling that mission by pairing more highly trained service dogs with veterans in need.
Unfortunately, roughly 20 veterans die by suicide each day and we are determined to change that. Since our inception we have paired more than 900 veterans with lifesaving service dogs, but we have only just begun to reach the veterans in need.
Graduates of the program are able to live a life that they previously did not think was possible. Many have reunited with their families, gone back to school, found renewed enjoyment in life, and significantly reduced their medications.
The number of total successful warrior/K9 graduate pairs is the best indication of our success in fulfilling our mission, which is why we are laser focused on getting more highly trained service dogs in the hands of veterans. We are about to go into the last months of 2023, and we are on track to graduate 160 warriors/K9 pairs, which would be the most ever for any year in our history – a proud feat we are able to meet after the opening of our Davis Family Mega Kennel, allowing us to rescue and train more than double our capacity before.
By focusing on quality and efficiency, we are on track to graduate our 1,000th warrior in 2024, a huge milestone for the organization that was founded in 2011, just 12 years ago.
To do this we need enough high-quality dogs to pass their final skills test and become service dogs to meet this need. This demands cross-organization coordination regarding training, kennel space, quality dog procurement, and effective warrior pairing.
What are the most rewarding parts about your job?
It's hard to express just how impactful and rewarding this job has been for me and for so many others passionate about K9s For Warriors. I have witnessed firsthand how our service dogs save veteran lives.
Every time a warrior steps foot onto our campus, overcoming doubts about whether or not this program will work for them, I have the privilege to witness that doubt transform into hope the moment the warrior meets their new companion. In the following days and weeks, I see the burden many of our veterans have carried for years gradually fade away because there is nothing more disarming than the unconditional love and loyalty of a service dog.
The physiological changes service dogs bring about in our warriors enable them to thrive, while limiting or eliminating the need for pharmaceuticals that only help them cope. Ninety-two percent of our veteran graduates report a reduction in medication and 82% report a reduced suicidal ideation, according to a survey done by Flagler College.
By the end of their three weeks on campus, our warriors have slowly, but surely taken back control, no longer allowing their PTSD to dominate their lives.
Fast forward to a year or three after their time at K9s, I have the pleasure of witnessing how much these warriors and their families' lives have changed, the accomplishments they've achieved, all with their battle buddy by their side. These moments fuel my passion for my job. They are the reason why I, along with everyone at K9s For Warriors, continue to fulfill the mission – to instill renewed hope and independence in those who sacrificed so much for us.
What are some of the aspects of the industry that are more challenging that you have to account for?
What we do here at K9s For Warriors is not easy and it’s truthfully not cheap. With a majority of our dogs being rescues, our procurement team works tirelessly to find the best service dog candidates across the country.
We believe wholeheartedly that everyone deserves a second chance. If we can save the dog, and the dog then saves the veteran, that’s two lives saved. Ultimately, to rescue, meticulously train, and pair a service dog with a veteran with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and/or military sexual trauma, it costs roughly $30,000, but we provide that service dog at no cost to the veteran. We rely entirely on donations from those who believe in what we do.
What are some of the ways K9s For Warriors gets involved with the community?
Since we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, we simply could not do what we do without the outpouring of support and donations from countless businesses, families, and corporations across the country who believe in the power of service dogs.
From people in the community putting on events to benefit K9s For Warriors, to our incredible volunteers who cook meals for our warriors when they come and stay with us for three weeks, as well as our incredible corporate partners who help raise awareness and funds for us, we truly could not fulfill our mission without them.
To learn more about our mission or if you know a loved one who may benefit from a service dog, please go to k9sforwarriors.org.
What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?
As someone who grew up in the New York city area, I love having space and access to the beach. Before our move we lived in a five-story walk up with no elevator. The quality of life is much higher.
My two kids have a backyard with a pool. Living in North Florida is a complete change in my lifestyle, and I truly love it. My wife and I cook a lot of fish (from Kyle’s) and get to the beach anytime we can.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Whether we’re barbecuing at home or going to the beach, my free time is spent with my wife and two little boys. I also have a lot of siblings and extended family who are always visiting. Ultimately, I am a big family man.