K9s for Warriors unveils second kennel at dedication ceremony

New kennel will allow organization to serve more warriors, faster


K9s for Warriors held a dedication ceremony for a second kennel that will allow the nonprofit organization to shorten its waiting list of at-risk military service men and women in need of service dogs.

Held Sept. 29 at its “Camp K9” headquarters in Nocatee, the dedication coincided with National Service Dog Month and National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month – two key facets of the K9s for Warriors program which aims to reduce or eliminate the number of service men and women who take their lives out of hopelessness or desperation from post-9/11 military-related trauma.

“We’re losing 22 veterans a day nationally to suicide – that’s unacceptable,” K9s for Warriors President and Founder Shari Duval said. “We don’t do that in America; it can’t happen. K9s for Warriors is changing that.”

Every veteran counts, she said.

To date, K9s for Warriors has graduated 256 warriors through its program that pairs service men and women suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma with service dogs. There is currently a two-year waiting list, however, to enter the program. The new kennel will mean a shortened waiting list.

Representatives from the Hall-Halliburton Foundation, which donated a large portion of the funds to build the new kennel, were in attendance for the dedication ceremony. The new kennel is named in memory of Hall-Halliburton Foundation President Randy Mahoney’s 115-pound black Labrador Retriever, Luca. A dedication plaque was unveiled at the dedication ceremony.

The “Luca Kennel” is a two-story building that includes 34 kennels on the ground floor and office space for staff upstairs. The upstairs area can also be used as a space to train dogs in the event of inclement weather.

“There’s really no more noble cause than helping our veterans who suffered injury in the defense of our country,” Mahoney said. “Many of those injuries are physical, many are emotional and spiritual, and a lot are both.

“They put themselves in harm’s way because they volunteered and they knew it was their duty,” he continued. “It’s now our duty to help them when they need it.”

Mahoney said his group, which has been involved with the K9s for Warriors organization since its inception, was impressed with the organization’s professionalism and dedication to its mission.

“We knew they were making a difference for these warriors and we knew that they were making a difference for the dogs as well,” he said.

To match the donation of the Hall-Halliburton Foundation, First Coast News sponsored a telethon to raise money for the new kennel and raised $200,000 in one day.

Also on hand for the ceremony was FCN Anchor Jeanie Blaylock, who has been dedicated to helping the organization.

The organization is so grateful to Blaylock for her continued support that they named a service dog after her. “Jeanie” was paired with warrior Scott, an Iraq veteran who lives in Mississippi. Blaylock will be highlighting their story as well as other graduates’ stories in several upcoming specials that will air on FCN leading up to a Veterans Day telethon to raise additional funds for the organization.

“In the last five years, K9s for Warriors has grown to be the nation’s largest provider of service dogs for veterans of PTSD.,” Executive Director Rory Diamond said. “That’s happened because Jacksonville has rallied around us.”