I was watching ESPN a couple of days ago, and one of the shows had former NFL player Brian Dawkins on. I was fortunate to have been at the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony where he was inducted. As a Chicago Bear fan, I was there to see Brian Urlacher of course, but was also looking forward to a speech from Ray Lewis, who has been known to have passionate speeches.
Little did I know, the most powerful speech of the day would be from Dawkins. I was aware that he was a very good football player, but I knew little about his past, which he shared that day. Even after making the NFL, he battled mental illness, depression, and thoughts of suicide.
What is K9s for Warriors?
So it makes since that Dawkins was drawn to the nonprofit organization K9s for warriors. This organization, based out of Jacksonville, Florida, rescues dogs from high-kill shelters, and pairs them with warriors, both veterans and active duty, who are struggling with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), MST (Military Sexual Trauma) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).
It was founded in 2011 by Shari Duval. His son was a veteran K9 police office who had served 2 tours in Iraq as a bomb dog handler. When he returned home, dealing with PTSD was an eye-opener to Duval and his family. After studying the effects that properly trained canines could have on a person going through PTSD, he decided that the best way he could help these veterans was to start a non-profit organization that would help these warriors return to civilian life.
Each month up to 12 veterans will spend three weeks at their facilities in Florida, where they are paired with a canine, which 90% come from high-kill or rescue shelters. These canines are already trained when the veterans arrive at the facility. After these 3 weeks these men and women are able to return to their friends and family, with a much brighter outlook on life. You can read some of the testimonials here.
This is 100% free to the veterans who enter the program, with the exception of travel to and from K9s for Warriors. They also have a list of organizations that can help with the travel if needed. During the 3 weeks they will receive public access testing, service canine equipment, seminars, veterinary care, meals, and housing.
Who is Eligible?
As of now, only service men and women who served after 9/11 are eligible, and must have been clinically diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, or MST to qualify for this program.
There is an 18-month waiting list for the program, but there are times when veterans could arrive months before their scheduled time. Of course they are working to expand, with the second facility opening up in Gainesville, Florida in 2018.
How does this help service men and women?
The founders of K9s for Warriors joined with the University of Purdue in order to do a study to find empirical evidence that service dogs help relieve post traumatic stress symptoms in veterans. In 2015, Dr. Maggie O’ Haire from Purdue assessed 141 veterans with PTSD.
75 of these veterans had already graduated with a service dog form K9s for Warriors, 68 were still on the waiting list for one. Several measurements were used, including:
- Social participation
- Family functioning
- Sympathetic Nervous System arousal
- Sleep/wake behavior
- Cortisol awakening response
- Dog interactions
The Results of the Study
In February 2018, the first study was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. It was confirmed that there were many benefits for the veterans, including:
- Lower overall symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress
- Lower levels of depression
- Higher levels of life satisfaction
- Higher overall psychological well-being
- Higher ability to interact socially
- Less time missing work
How Can I Help?
If you would like to donate, just go to the K9s for Warriors page and set up either a one-time donation or the recurring option if you would prefer.
If you are in the Jacksonville, Florida area, you can donate your time working at their facility. You can also assist by either donating a dog, or fostering a dog until one is needed for a warrior.
There are many other different ways to help, including hosting community events, donating a car, or give through your workplace using the CFC (Combined Federal Campaign), which employees can give through their companies’ payroll system.
The number 20 is more than the number that was on Dawkins jersey when he played. It is the estimated number of veterans who commit suicide every day. Medication and therapy are not working. Some are on 12-14 different medications when they arrive, yet after going through the program 92% either lower or eliminate their medication.
K9s for Warriors is committed to helping the men and women who have sacrificed so much to protect our nation. As of January 2020, 604 warriors have gone through the training, and there have been 1,161 dogs have been rescued as well. If you would like to help, please go to K9s for Warriors today.
If you have been through this program, or know somebody who has, tell us about your experience in the comment section below. Or if you have any questions, please leave those as well!