By Kristin Fox
There is a common saying often heard “A dog is a man’s best friend.” Two local dogs have started on a unique journey to become two lucky people’s loyal best friends. Locally known as Santiago and Camilo, these two dogs were selected from the Macon County Animal Services to participate in the K9s for Warriors – Service Dogs for Disabled Veterans training program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Santiago and Camilo started their new adventure as transports from the Macon County shelter to the Humane Society of Charlotte (HSC). While waiting to be adopted Santiago and Camilo, who are now known as Patronus and Lumos, were selected for the K9s for Warriors program. The two are actually the first dogs to be rescued by HSC and the first ever from Macon County for the program.
HSC works with shelters and rescue organizations, such as the Macon County Animal Services, across the Southeast to procure dogs that fit into the K9s for Warriorsprogram. Once selected for the program, the dogs are trained to become Service Dogs for military veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and/or military sexual trauma.
“To be a Service Dog candidate, the dogs need to have a certain temperament and be a certain height and weight to be able to perform tasks for veterans in need,” said Dani Bozzini, Senior Public Relations Manager for K9s for Warriors. “They need to be at least 22 inches tall (from the floor to the top of the shoulders) and weigh at least 50 pounds.”
“We test for sociability, trainability, confidence and a willingness to work – and if we see potential like we did with Patronus and Lumos, they get a second chance and come back to K9s for Warriors to start their new journey,” she added.
“Both boys are doing so well at K9s for Warriors so far,” said Bozzini. “For the first week, they were in our wellness wing as we made sure they were all healthy and ready to go before the training began. They are both healthy and out of the wellness wing now and starting their training to save a veteran’s life one day.”
Bozzini shared some notes about each dog from the kennel caretakers. Both dogs play well together and have continued to be best buds in the training program.Patronus prefers playing with soft plush toys while Lumosloves rope toys, office sessions listening to audio books, and puzzle toys.
Patronus is reported to be a sweet boy who loves to get pets and rubs against you like a cat. He is eager to work and his main focus has been brushing up on his basics and introducing new things like touch and place. He is working hard learning to keep all four paws on the ground and appropriate play with humans. He is also bilingual and knows his sit, down, and come cues in Spanish.
Lumos is one of the biggest cuddle bugs/ lap dogs but is having a hard time adjusting to the kennel setting. He is more at ease outside of his kennel and does well meeting new people in that setting. His main focus right now is working on his confidence.
Determined to end veteran suicide, K9s for Warriors is the nation’s largest provider of trained Service Dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD and/or military sexual trauma. With most dogs coming from high-kill rescue shelters, this innovative program allows the K9/Warrior team to build an unwavering bond that facilitates their collective healing and recovery.
This treatment method is backed by scientific research from Purdue University’s OHAIRE Lab, demonstrating Service Dogs’ ability to help mitigate Veteran’s symptoms of PTSD while simultaneously restoring their confidence and independence.
Founded in 2011 as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, K9s forWarriors remains committed to bringing widespread awareness to veterans’ mental health and contributing to policy-level reform. The organization’s facilities include: K9s for Warriors National Headquarters and Davis Family Mega Kennel in Ponte Vedra, Florida; Gold Family Campus in Alachua, Florida;and the Petco Love K9 Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Recently, long-time Carolina Panthers Head Coach and current Washington Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera and his wife Stephanie joined HSC and K9s for Warriors to help get more service dogs in the hands of veterans in need.
The Riveras donated $20,000 to go towards HSC’s efforts to procure dogs eligible for K9s for Warriors’ Service Dog program. The couple recently visited HSC and got to meet Patronus and Lumos.
“K9s for Warriors simply would not exist without the support of incredible people like the Riveras,” said K9s for Warriors CEO Carl Cricco. “Their generous donation will enable us to save more dogs and get them in the hands of veterans in need. Their commitment to veterans and rescue dogs allows us to save lives at both ends of the leash.”
Roughly 20 veterans die by suicide each day and with the help of donations as well as the work of animal shelters, K9s forWarriors is determined to change that through the healing power of highly trained Service Dogs. With the majority of dogs coming from rescue shelters, the innovative program allows the K9/veteran team to build an unwavering bond that facilitates their collective healing and recovery.
There are more than three million dogs in shelters in the United States, far too many of whom are subject to euthanasia because they are not adopted. Rescue centers, such as the Macon County Animal Services and HSC are committed to saving as many dogs and cats as possible through its partnerships with other agencies.
To learn more about K9s for Warriors and to support the nonprofit’s programs, visit www.k9sforwarriors.org.
For more information on HSC, visit www.humane humanesocietyofcharlotte.org.