Battle Buddies For Life

In the words of John F. Kennedy speaking about our veterans, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” When veterans return from duty many of them need to be rehabilitated back into society with help from civilians and other veterans. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects one in five combat veterans, and not only complicates but prevents many of them from leading successful civilian lives. Over 150 veterans have found a treatment that works through the K9’s on the Front Lines program.

K9’s on the Front Lines (K9oTFL) provides service animals at no cost to veterans affected by PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), anxiety or mobility issues. The service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks depending on the needs of the individual. From reminding their handler to take their medication, retrieving items from the fridge or ground and even helping with balance. Veterans with PTSD especially benefit from having a service animal which can be trained to wake them from blunt nightmares, intercept flashbacks and neutralize negative emotions by providing a sense of security. The dogs provide emotional support and curb feelings of anxiety in crowds or social situations.

The program was originally founded in Maine in 2016. Missouri became the second state to host the program, thanks to Jason Howe. Jason served as a Master-at-Arms for the U.S. Navy at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Kandahar, Afghanistan; and Bethesda, Maryland on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. During his time, he performed on-the-job training with military working dogs. Jason was traveling from his hometown in Jefferson City to Maine to visit family when he came across K9oTFL. He applied for a service animal and was approved for a female boxer dog named Sobee that was two days short of being euthanized.

“Getting Sobee completely changed my life. I was finally able to go out in public again and explore and do things. Battle buddies for life.”

After experiencing first-hand what the program could provide Jason started K9’s on the Front Line-Missouri as the Midwest Coordinator/Service Dog K9 Handler.

Like Sobee, being in the program can be “life-saving” for many of the dogs as well. K9oTFL purchases the dogs from shelters (saving some from euthanization) and are taken to a temporary facility to begin training to become a service animal. Current or past law enforcement professionals donate their time to train the dogs until they are matched with a Veteran. Once a veteran has applied and been approved, their assigned dog is immediately taken to live with the Veteran to begin bonding. Together, the dog and Veteran are required to attend a weekly 2-hour, 16-week class to train the animal. At home, the Veteran must also work with the dog for a minimum of 2 hours per day. Twelve veterans and their service animals have graduated from the training course since its inception. Jason Howe is happy to lead these trainings and says, “I want to help my fellow brothers and sister in the armed forces. It’s like a big peer support group.” In 2018, Jason received the Distinguished Service Award & Medal of Combat Valor for actions in combat. Sobee was also recognized by the United States Tiger Foundation as the nation’s first recipient of the Taffy 4 K-9 Legacy Award.

K9oTFL-Missouri joined the Chamber in 2018 and was quickly met with support from the business community. Premium Pets offered to host training classes and Diamond Pet Foods arose as the official K9oTFL sponsor. The program is free to veterans but a cost of $3,500 is incurred to purchase the dog and pay for the training, food, shelter, and service vest for the dog before it is matched with a Veteran. The program is entirely funded by grants, individual and corporate donations, and needs the support of those in Jefferson City to keep the program operating. Every Veteran that graduates the program is another life changed and another individual who can live a normal life again.