K9s for Warriors

K9s for Warriors: Providing Veterans with Four Legs of Support
By: Raleigh Harbin

United States Military Veterans make the ultimate sacrifice everyday, and often have to deal with the after effects without any help. K9s for Warriors, a Nocatee-based organization, is helping those veterans cope with the harsh realities of war after returning from their service.

“We have veterans that [are] looking for a solution other than medication,” Samantha Epstein, K9s for Warriors Education Manager, said. “Even if they’re in crisis mode, our team is very good at responding to them.”

K9s for Warriors employees are all trained in crisis communication and help veterans whenever they are having trouble at the K9s facility.

But they can’t help veterans when they travel out into the community, and that’s where the organization’s highly trained service dogs come in. Through adoption and fostering, some of the most intelligent dog breeds become lifelong service dogs and companions for these veterans, at no cost to the individuals in need.

These dogs provide any type of support imaginable. They are trained at the K9s facility, and then go through an extensive training program with the veterans, gaining experience in public situations. The dog learns specific commands that help each veteran feel comfortable in their environment.

“The most utilized command is one that is called ‘cover’,” Epstein said. “So if I were a veteran and was having issues going out in public and I was hyper vigilant and afraid that somebody was going to sneak up on me if I were going to a location like an ATM, I could step up to the ATM, get my credit card out and proceed to get my cash out and I would tell the dog to ‘cover’, and he/she would actually turn around and stand and watch my back.”

Another command is called “brace”, where the dog actually braces himself to help a veteran who may have fallen, or in general has a hard time standing up on his or her own.

K9s for Warriors is a nonprofit organization, and veterans come from all over the country seeking out their own service dog. So far, 256 warrior-canine teams have graduated, with lots more to come.

“It’s awesome,” Epstein said. “I mean what’s better than dogs and veterans? You can’t have two better causes than that.”