US Army veteran SGT Jason New recently returned home after completing the Florida-based, national service dog training program K9s For Warriors. He and his new service dog, Macho, are hoping to share their experience with the Columbia community to create PTSD awareness.

K9s For Warriors serves warriors who suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disability (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and/or military sexual trauma (MST). Jason resided at Camp K9, the nonprofit’s state-of-the-art facility, for 21 days during the month of June. He received instruction on how to use a service dog to mitigate the symptoms associated with his military trauma, at no cost to him. Jason’s service dog, who was rescued from an animal shelter, worked with professional dog trainers for months to prepare for the team’s pairing.

“This program has helped me take my life back,” said Jason. “I want to do more with my family, and my service dog will give me the peace of mind to get out there to do just that.”

Macho was taught specific commands and tasks that will help Jason reintegrate into civilian society with dignity and independence. Jason was matched to the rescue dog based on needs, personality, and lifestyle. Before returning home, he and Macho graduated alongside ten other teams from across the United States. Upon completion of the program, they acquired 120 hours of specialized training and certification as a service dog team. Jason will be able to bring Macho with him in public places, as specified under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

K9s For Warriors is the nation’s largest provider of service dogs for American veterans with PTSD. The organization operates from Ponte Vedra, Florida, with the capacity to pair 144 warrior-dog teams per year. The nonprofit has been instrumental in the recovery of hundreds of disabled veterans and incredibly successful at preventing veteran suicide. Shari Duval founded K9s For Warriors to help her son, Brett, recover from his own experience with PTSD.

“America has a national tragedy; we are losing over 20 veterans a day to suicide,” said Shari Duval, founder, K9s For Warriors. “K9s for Warriors is changing that. Our program teaches our Warriors how to navigate the civilian world again without fear, but with dignity and independence.”

K9s For Warriors uses rescue and shelter dogs, saving the time and money that would be required for a full-blown puppy breeding program. The veteran receives a fully-trained, healthy service canine who was saved from a high-kill shelter. Essentially, the dog is saved, then the dog saves the veteran. Eighty-two percent of K9 For Warriors graduates report a decrease in suicidal thoughts after receiving their service dogs. These veterans are also able to return to work, take care of their families, and become caring members of the community.