K9s For Warriors opens world’s largest rescue-to-service dog training facility

JACKSONVILLE — On Monday, K9s For Warriors held a ribbon-cutting ceremony commemorating the opening of phase one of the Davis Family Mega Kennel.

The new facility sits on six acres of generously donated land by the Davis family in Northeast Florida.

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Leaders say the new site will save the lives of more dogs but also veterans struggling with PTSD.

“We go to high-kill shelters across the country, find the special dogs we’re looking for, bring them here, get them back up to health and then train them for six to eight months,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors. “They go from a wild crazy rescue dog to a disciplined amazing service dog.

Phase one of the Davis Family Mega Kennel will enable K9s For Warriors to train 88 more service-dogs-in-training, which the organization says will dramatically reduce the four-year waitlist. Upon completion of phase two, the waitlist is expected to be cut in half.

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More than 150 service dogs in training in total will be able to live at the facility.

“Today is a great day for our veterans across the country and for so many dogs waiting to be given a chance,” Diamond said. “Back in 2011, Shari Duval set out to better the lives of veterans struggling with invisible wounds of war by giving them rescued Service Dogs. Today, we remain steadfast in our mission of saving lives.”

Phase one is reported to have cost roughly $8 million to complete and consisted of 68 kennels, 20 wellness kennels, a K9 enrichment area, a food storage building, and a splash pad. Phase two construction is scheduled to start in the coming months.

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Action News Jax spoke with a Foar from Home team of four veterans who spent 51 days at sea rowing across the Atlantic.

They chose to raise awareness for PTSD, working to end veteran suicide.

A kennel called ‘Courageous’ at the new site was dedicated to them. They’ve raised more than $915,000 for K9s For Warriors.

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“If statistics are right where we lose 22 veterans a day, by the time we rode across the ocean in 51 days -- we lost 1,034 veterans,” Paul Lore with Foar from Home said.

Hupp Huppmann, Cameron Hansen and William Cimino are also on the team.

“Always give us one more day,” Huppmann said. ‘”Let’s keep pushing. One more day.”

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State Sen. Travis Hutson and State Rep. Sam Garrison championed $2.5 million in state funding for phase two. State Sen. Jennifer Bradley and State Rep. Cord Byrd also secured $750,000 to help with operational costs. Additionally, the David and Cheryl Duffield Foundation provided a generous donation to complete the veterinary clinic.

“These service dogs are incredible at keeping our warriors alive,” Diamond said. “That’s what this is going to do.”

Any veteran experiencing PTSD, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma can have the opportunity to be teamed up with a service dog.

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The organization’s five facilities include: K9s For Warriors National Headquarters (Ponte Vedra, FL) Davis Family Mega Kennel (Ponte Vedra, FL) Gold Family Campus (Alachua, FL) Petco Love K9 Center (San Antonio, Texas) and K9s For Warriors at Heidi’s Village (Phoenix, AZ).

“You’re not alone,” Hansen said. “I know that’s part of the reason people feel that way. You’re not alone. There’s lots of help. There’s lots of people who want to help. You’ve got to take that first step.”

To learn more about K9s For Warriors and to support the nonprofit’s programs, visit www.k9sforwarriors.org.