It has been a year since the puppy, Slider, I raised graduated from service dog training at K9s For Warriors. Last December, I wrote an essay to express the emotions I experienced during Slider's graduation. This piece has not been published - until now. I've heard Slider and his warrior are doing well, which brings me so much joy. If you are reading this and live within 50 miles of Camp K9, please consider becoming a puppy raiser. It is not easy... but nothing worthwhile is.
As an Army veteran deployed to Iraq in 2003-04, I am intimately familiar with the challenges that our warriors face daily. Depression and isolation are just two of the many problems service members may experience when returning from a combat zone. In 2012, when I was introduced to K9s For Warriors, I realized there was hope for returning warriors who, like me, struggled with issues related to deployment.
When one of our staff tells someone he/she works at K9s For Warriors, the usual follow-up question is,
“So, you train the dogs?”
Well, “No ...” is the answer for about 90% of our staff.
There are several departments that churn and burn to sustain the operation that is the whole of K9s For Warriors. Besides the obvious K9s Operations, we have other vital departments: Warrior Relations, Development, Public Relations, etc. All are equally important, working in tandem to make K9s what it is.
So, what exactly does the rest of the staff do?
My best friend, Daniell, knows just what to do when I’m depressed or in a state of sheer panic. She understands me and my struggles to the core and has a good reason to; we’ve been friends since the ninth grade and have gone through so much together. I try to be transparent in life, but it’s hard. Some people know this, some do not… but I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since the age of 12. Daniell is, of course, one of the people in my life who knows this about me.
Becoming a K9s For Warriors service dog is a more intricate process than most may think. Depending on the age of the dog, the journey will differ slightly, but each dog must pass several steps before graduating with its warrior. K9s For Warriors requires that the canine pass through these steps to ensure they're the best lifelong partner possible.
My ’87 Ford Escort was jam-packed with boxes and Hefty bags filled with all the clothes and George Michael CDs I owned. My mom was in the driveway crying softly; my five brothers and sisters standing at her side, sad and confused. Just a week earlier, I had been planning on living at home while I attended the University of Florida, a few towns over. But now, after one fight too many with my father, there I was – 18 years old, sad, scared, and furious – fishtailing my way down our ragged dirt road, heading for the sanctuary of my cousin Chrissy’s couch up in Jacksonville.
If you are familiar with K9s For Warriors, you may know about our dog sponsorship program. The revenue brought in by this fundraising method is impressive and with the price it takes to train one warrior-dog team around $27,000, each penny raised is very much needed. Donors who choose to sponsor a dog receive the incredible honor of naming the service dog they are supporting.
Ever since Fletcher High School’s Interact club learned about K9s for Warriors in 2013, they have been involved with the organization. When I was a student there and a member of the club, (now I am a student at FSU and an intern at K9s For Warriors), we set our sights on raising enough money to sponsor a dog - thousands of dollars. We expected raising this sum of money would be a huge challenge, and so we began to brainstorm.
Pairing a dog to a warrior is an intricate process that combines the professional expertise of both warrior and dog trainers. Each dog under consideration for our program must pass an extensive health, history, and behavioral evaluation. The goal is for a dog to maintain good health, so it will be able to serve a warrior without any complications. Most of the dogs that graduate go on to live healthy lives full of purpose and happiness. But, as many of us know all too well, the unexpected can strike without warning; it’s life!
Twenty percent of the 1.7 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with PTSD. There are many veterans out there that have not been diagnosed, so the number of those afflicted by the devastating disability is likely much higher than 1.7 million. The veterans who are diagnosed and seek treatment often cannot find an option that actually heals their wounds.