VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System
K9s for Warriors: Because Together We Stand
Her senses were always up, in a constant state of fight or flight, ever since that day in May of 2012. Tiffany Baker, an Army National Guard soldier, was traveling in a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle while stationed in Afghanistan when it hit a 250-pound IED. The bomb was so powerful, it rolled the heavily-enforced vehicle.
Baker sustained major physical injuries, requiring four hip surgeries the next year. She also suffered a traumatic brain injury because of the attack. “I was taking 17 medications between being overseas and then coming back,” says Baker. She was frequently going to the VA, seeing a counselor, psychiatrists, and psychologists. “They were constantly giving me medications.” She was feeling more and more isolated.
In February 2015, Baker medically retired, saying goodbye to her unit, the 1157 Transportation Company. That same year, she met Buddy through K9s For Warriors. Buddy had been badly abused and neglected by his owner. Before being rescued, he was found tied to a tree without any food or water. “K9s For Warriors is great at pairing the dog with veterans,” says Baker. She explains that Buddy always covers her back. He’s "got her 6", and he creates a safe barrier between her and other people, allowing her to function in public. Baker was so taken with Buddy and the K9s For Warriors program that she got involved in supporting the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members) Act of 2017 that got the VA on board with service dogs helping veterans. The bill directs the VA to carry out a five-year pilot program, providing grant funding to qualifying nonprofits that provide service dogs to military members or veterans who suffer from PTSD after they finalize other traditional treatments.
K9s For Warriors is a BBB accredited charity organization located in Ponte Vedra, Florida, that has been pairing rescue 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. “The skillsets our dogs learn help these warriors with anxiety, isolation, depression, and nightmares,” says Shari Duval, the founder of K9s For Warriors. “So, the warriors can function again in public.” Specifically, the dogs are trained to deal with symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or military sexual trauma (MST), as a result of military service on or after 9/11.
It takes K9s For Warrior six months to train a dog. They train a total of 120 dogs per year. They rescue most breeds except full-bred Pitbulls, Dobermans, Chow Chows, Rottweilers, or Dalmatians due to insurance restrictions or state sanctions. The service dogs have full public access (with papers) but are not emotional support dogs or pets. Once the dogs are fully trained, they are ready to be paired with their warrior. As Duval says, “When the dog's healthy, the warrior is healthy.”
If you are interested in being a part of the K-9s for Warriors program, you can apply at https://www.k9sforwarriors.org/warrior-application-survey. This story was written by Scott Smith. To read the full story visit Consumeradvocate.org