K9s on The Front Line brings shelter dogs and veterans together.
Veteran Jason Howe knew it was time to get his life back on track, but he wasn’t sure how. He was living in Missouri and experiencing a few personal struggles, including post traumatic stress disorder, for which he was self-medicating. He decided it was time to return to his hometown in Maine to focus on getting his life back.
While there, Jason ran into a high school friend with what appeared to be a service dog. Intrigued, Jason asked, “Is that your service dog?” His friend responded, “Yes, it is.”
“Has it helped you?” Jason asked.
“Absolutely. It changed my life,” his friend responded.
Jason’s hometown friend contacted K9s on The Front Line, a nonprofit organization that provides fully trained service dogs at no cost to military veterans affected by PTSD or traumatic brain disorders. Jason’s friend recommended him for the program. Jason was accepted and was soon given a boxer mix named Sobee.
After four months with Sobee, Jason decided it was time to return to Missouri. His experience with K9s on The Front Line was life changing, and he was determined to create something similar in Missouri, where he could also be there for his kids.
K9s on The Front Line gave Jason the guidance he needed to bring a program to Jefferson City. He attended the Tom Rose School for professional dog training and, upon graduation, quickly gained full support of the community. With the help of Diamond Pet Foods, Veterans United Home Loans, and Naught-Naught Agency, Jason raised $100,000 in the first year.
“This community has been absolutely amazing,” Jason says. “We’re actually getting ready to expand to St. Louis and reach more veterans. The majority of the funds were raised by getting in front of the public, telling our story, and spreading awareness during local events at the fairgrounds and downtown Jefferson City.”
The K9s on The Front Line dog training program is completed in 18 to 20 weeks and takes place in donated space at the VFW in St. Martins. On the seventh week, the veterans and service dogs begin to venture around town, testing tasks at local, dog-friendly businesses (e.g., Lowe’s, Colton’s Steakhouse, Premium Pets). Most of the service dogs are from local animal shelters, People Helping Paws, or Missouri Wigglebutts. If a veteran already has a dog, and the dog is trainable, the dog can also go through the program. Service dogs for the program do not have to be a certain breed, but the dog must be good tempered and food motivated.
“In order to be a service dog, the dog must be able to perform at least two tasks,” Jason explained. “For example, Sobee watches my back out in public. I don’t like people crowded behind me, and she knows this. When I tell her ‘back’, she will get behind me and sit there. If someone gets too close, she’ll stand up and warn them to step back.”
When a veteran experiences a panic attack, a service dog will bring the panicked back to the present moment, resulting in a sense of relief and comfort. The veterans in the program are also required to complete outside therapy — the service dog is not a fix-all, rather an added tool to their therapy program.
So far, 45 local veterans have completed the program. Local veteran Randy Gardner was recommended to K9s on The Front Line by his therapist, and unlike other programs Randy had sought, Jason welcomed the idea of training Randy’s dog, Ridge.
“[Jason] was very easy to talk to and he understood where I was coming from because he had been there. He helps veterans off the clock, even when we’re not in the training classes. He always has time for us,” Randy says. “This has been the best experience of my life. The ability to have Ridge by my side gives me a drive and gives me focus.”
K9s on The Front Lines is hosting their second Show Me Honor Awards Dinner in Jefferson City March 19 at Capitol Plaza Hotel. This year, the organization will be honoring Don Hentges for his exceptional support of veterans in the community. Special guests of the evening are Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe and Sergeant Craig Grossi. Grossi will be sharing his story as a U.S. Marine and the bond created with a stray dog while serving in Afghanistan. The night will include entertainment by Soul Root and a contest where one lucky winner will walk away with a three-day trip to Maine.
Jason has his hands full at home, too, where he’s currently training a service dog that will soon go to Maine as a gift of gratitude to the veteran who introduced him to the program. He’s also training a service dog for the VA hospital.
“That’s what makes us unique,” Jason says. “We take the dogs that don’t have homes and pair them with a veteran, basically saving two lives at the same time.”
Publisher’s note: K9s on The Front Line won 2nd Place in our CITY’s Best category of Best Social Media Presence – Local Business. You can follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/MOK9SOTFL/; Twitter at @myservicedog4; or Instagram at @missourik9sonthefrontline.