A unique approach in service dog training for veterans is being implemented by my sister, Michele Khol, founder of MK9 Service Dogs in Vienna, Va.

Typically, fully trained service dogs are paired with veterans with physical and/or mental health disabilities. Instead of training puppies for a multitude of conditions, MK9 Service Dogs targets the veteran’s needs first and then identifies and trains the service dog, starting as a puppy, to meet those individualized needs. Currently, there are more veterans who could benefit from having a trained service dog than there are available. As a result, there is usually a waiting list for a qualified, fully trained service dog.

Other service dog organizations may select a veteran who is compatible with an already-trained service dog, then begin a relationship-building phase, ensuring that the service dog’s needs and the veteran’s needs are met and both are benefitting from the relationship. MK9 Service Dogs’ model is to first assesses the veteran’s needs, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury), depression, anxiety or some physical disability, and then train the dog to meet those specific needs.

According to the Veterans Administration National Suicide Data report, an estimated 20 veterans commit suicide per day. The empirical evidence of the efficacy of service dogs mitigating the symptoms of conditions such as PTSD is clear and overwhelming. Dogs can reach and connect with veterans in ways humans cannot. Sometimes, just having a service dog trained to perform nightmare interruptions for a veteran allows them to sleep through the night for the first time in years. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of trained service dogs for veterans because of the cost of raising, training and placing qualified service dogs, which can exceed $28,000 a dog.

MK9 Service Dogs’ solution to this dilemma is to offer qualified and highly trained service dogs to eligible veterans at no cost to the veteran. Working with a network of Labrador retriever and German shepherd breeders, MK9 Service Dogs procures puppies with the proper temperament and aptitude to be a service dog. Having a team of highly trained, skilled and dedicated volunteers, MK9 Service Dogs is able to fulfill its mission to provide highly trained service dogs to maximize the independence and quality of life of veterans with physical and/or mental disabilities at no cost to the veteran

MK9 Service Dogs is seeking financial contributions from the community to make its mission a reality, since this is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit venture. There are several levels of sponsorship available for those who wish to help pair a service dog in training with a qualified veteran with physical and/or mental health disabilities.

Your support is greatly needed and appreciated. For more information, visit www.mk9servicedogs.org/ or follow them on Facebook at mk9s service dogs.