NEW PORT RICHEY — There are numbers of people who volunteer to take up the mantle of sacrifice and serving others, but often times there is a significant cost in both physical and mental health.
At the same time, there is a large number of dogs which are sitting in animal shelters who await the arrival of an adoptive family and the escape from the euthanasia needle.
It seems almost a logical idea to pair one beloved group with the other — in some respects saving each other’s lives.
Enter K9 Heroes for Our Heroes.
The tax-exempt nonprofit organization, founded two years ago, pairs rescued dogs with members of the military and first responder units to assist with problems ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to physical limitations.
Jen Andrews is the founder and president of the Pasco-based organization.
The child of a veteran, Andrews said it has always been a vision of hers to serve by helping those who served.
“This started with a dream and some education from some real good men and women,” Andrews said. “I always wanted to do something for my country. I am grateful for the lives that we get to live.”
Andrews volunteered to work with an organization that brought her into close, personal contact with veterans of World War II.
“I had a chance to work with the Honor Flights,” she recalled, referring to a program that transports veterans from across the country to visit memorials in Washington, D.C. “It was life changing. I was able to get to know them and learn what this country was really founded on and who we are as Americans.”
Andrews had always wanted to train dogs, and so the combination of two passions formed into the current organization.
“I know what dogs can do,” she said noting that she personally breeds German Shepherds. “And, when these people finish their service there is a lot that goes on with them at home. I wanted to make a difference.”
One of the major differences between K9 Heroes and similar organizations is the addition of first responders to their service groups.
“For me, it’s about the American hero — those that step up and give us the quality of life we have every day,” Andrews said. “When you think about it, most veterans end up being first responders. I wanted to take care of all of them. That’s who we are and these are the people who step up for us.”
Those applying for the service are first met by a social services worker who determines the prospective client’s needs.
If approved, the worker returns with a dog trainer who assesses the particular skills the dog would need to have for a particular person.
Andrews keeps in constant contact with the local animal shelter to screen and rescue those dogs which show the potential of service.
“We have one dog serving now with a person with Alzheimer’s disease who wanders away a lot,” Andrews said. “With their dog, his wife can now take a shower with the door closed knowing should her husband wanders away he has a companion who is trained to bring him home.”
Another dog has been trained to deal with seizures.
When those violent episodes begin, the K9 places its head behind the head of the victim. That protects the person from suffering what could be serious, brain-damaging issues.
Many times, the K9 companions simply help motivate the person to come out of their darkened rooms and escape the bonds of depression.
Andrews said the cost for each dog is approximately $15,000. The cost to the person, however, is nothing.
“And, our social services worker and trainer keep continuous contact to make sure the family is able to handle all the paperwork involved with veterans as well as making sure the dog is doing its job and keeping its skills sharp,” she said.
K9 Heroes for Our Heroes has two dogs in service, four in training “and a very long waiting list.”
“The needs are immediate,” Andrews said.
She said the social services worker is the only paid staff member, and the dogs are trained by a nearby trainer who is the only one of their type in the area.
The trainer offers the training to K9 Heroes at a discount.
Andrews said anyone wanting to volunteer, either physically or financially, would be welcome and appreciated.
K9 Heroes for Our Heroes can be contacted by phone at 727-494-7590 or 813-410-9323.
Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details, the organization maintains a website at k9heroes.us.com.