K9s For Warriors is turning shelter dogs that would’ve otherwise been euthanized into service dogs for veterans suffering with PTSD. The dog’s life gets saved, and the veteran’s life is restored to normalcy. It’s a win-win.
K9s For Warriors is an accredited charity organization located in Ponte Vedra, Florida, that has been pairing rescues dogs with traumatized soldiers since 2011. The dogs are trained to be service dogs, specifically performing tasks to quiet the symptoms of war trauma disabilities in soldiers.
Shari Duval started the program after watching her son Brett Simon suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after he returned from Iraq. Witnessing this debilitating condition motivated Duval to research alternative treatments to the standard talk therapy and medication, neither of which worked for her son.
“On average, soldiers take 14 meds a day to treat PTSD,” says Duval. If treatment is not working, veterans are prescribed more and more drugs. “I even knew one soldier who was taking 44 meds per day.” After two years of researching alternative treatments, Duval came upon a program that paired service dogs with veterans to alleviate their PTSD symptoms. Shortly after, K9s For Warriors was born.
The three-week K9s For Warriors program is open to veterans or military members who became disabled while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces on or after 9/11. The program costs $27,000 per participant but at no cost to the warrior. If one cannot cover travel costs, K9s pays for travel to and from the facility. To Duval, every military member or veteran who walks through her door is family and is treated with honor and respect. “We bring the warrior home to heal, to a place to regroup, to hit the reset button,” she says.
To qualify, a warrior must submit an application and have a verified clinical diagnosis of PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or a military sexual trauma. All applications go through a full vetting process that takes 2-4 weeks to complete. During that time, a trained service dog is identified that matches the applicant’s specific situation and needs.
Studying the benefits
Inspired by the success of their program, K9s For Warriors recently partnered with Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine on a pilot study testing the effectiveness of service dogs as a complementary treatment for military members and veterans who suffer from PTSD. Dr. Maggie O’Haire, assistant professor of human-animal interaction, along with Kerri E. Rodriguez, research assistant, conducted the study and published the findings earlier this year.
The study had a total of 141 participants from the K9s For Warriors’ program or individuals on the program’s waiting list. Half of the program’s participants had service dogs; the other half did not. Finding revealed that PTSD symptoms were significantly lower in veterans with service dogs. “The initial findings showed lower depression, lower PTSD symptoms, lower levels of anxiety, and lower absenteeism from work due to health issues,” says Dr. O’Haire.