K9s for Warriors graduating class includes special pairing

Service dog Delaney captures hearts while honoring memory of late rear admiral


When K9s for Warriors held its most recent graduation ceremony last week honoring the dedication and commitment of seven warriors and the service dogs with which they’d been paired, the crowd on hand to celebrate the occasion was larger than usual.

The reason for the overflow crowd, officials said, was due not to advertising or promotion of the event, but because of one special service dog who has captured the hearts of many.

“Delaney the dog has a huge following in Jacksonville,” Executive Director Rory Diamond said at the ceremony. “This is our biggest crowd ever – it’s great to see all of his fans out here.”

Delaney’s popularity and near-celebrity status, Diamond continued, is due in large part to the man for whom he was named: the late Rear Admiral Kevin Delaney. The beloved former commanding officer of Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Delaney was a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who flew 686 missions in Vietnam before serving in a number of naval leadership positions. Upon his retirement, Delaney was the most decorated officer in the history of the U.S. Navy. He went on to serve on the boards of numerous local nonprofits before his untimely death in 2015 from lung cancer resulting from his wartime exposure to Agent Orange.

“Admiral Delaney was an early guiding light for K9s for Warriors,” Diamond said. “We would not have got to where we’ve gotten today without him and without his leadership. To be able to honor him tonight is special to every single person here.”

K9s for Warriors Founder Shari Duval agreed, calling Rear Admiral Delaney both her mentor and her hero.

“Kevin has passed away,” she said, “but his memory will live with us forever.”

That memory has been shared with many, she added, through the service dog that now bears his name. Delaney the dog has introduced Admiral Delaney’s life and legacy to countless K9s for Warriors supporters.

Training the pup, however, wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“Delaney was difficult,” admitted Mary Daniel, who raised and helped train the dog through K9s for Warriors. “He was a feisty little puppy and required a lot of work. But I worked so hard, especially in honor of Rear Admiral Delaney. I knew there was a young man out there that needed him.”

Even more poignant, those at the graduation agreed, is the name of the warrior with whom Delaney has been paired: Kevin.

“You can’t make this up,” said Duval, smiling.

While Daniel must now part with the dog she has raised and trained, she said the experience of raising Delaney was a “gift.”

“I know that dog is going to save his life,” she said of Delaney’s new warrior. “That’s how it’s easy for me to give him up. I know he’s got bigger and better things in store than just hanging around with me.”