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K9s For Warriors: Rescuing dogs to rescue veterans

"Giving them a second chance at life and a second chance to really connect with that one person, I tear up just thinking about it," trainer Lina Eklof said.

SAN ANTONIO — Lina Eklof walks the kennels at San Antonio's Animal Care Services. She peeks inside each cage, looking for a special dog that can handle the responsibility of rescuing someone else. 

“It’s not an easy thing to do, looking at dogs that have been given up by people in the past,” Eklof said.

But there's hope for their future. Eklof trains dogs with K9s For Warriors, an organization that turns shelter pets into service dogs for veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Military Sexual Trauma.

“I don’t think I even have the words to explain how rewarding it is," Eklof said.

“Giving them a second chance at life and a second chance to really connect with that one person, I tear up just thinking about it."

The organization is based in Florida. Texas State Director JC Clapsaddle hopes expanding operations in “Military City USA” will help them cut down on their waitlist.

“We’re the largest service provider of dogs to disabled vets, specifically PTSD vets," Clapsaddle said. “We’ve got about a four-year backlog on getting these dogs to warriors and that’s unacceptable.” 

For now, their lifesaving work happens inside a small, borrowed office inside Animal Care Services. They have just enough kennel space at the shelter to take in a handful of dogs at a time. 

Clapsaddle said in the next six months, they'll have an 8,000 sq. ft. facility that will hold 30 kennels. It will sit on three acres of land adjacent to the animal shelter and serve as the organization's hub in the southwestern United States. 

Clapsaddle said dogs selected for the K9s For Warriors program will be tested, housed, and receive initial veterinary care at the facility in San Antonio. The dogs will then be transported to Ponte Vedra, Florida, to receive formal training to become accredited by Assistance Dogs International. 

According to K9s For Warriors, this process takes several months and costs about $27,000. The veteran receiving a service dog doesn't pay a cent. 

“We don’t just give them a dog and send them on their way, we give them life-changing assistance," Clapsaddle said.

As of October 2020, K9s For Warriors has recused 1,254 dogs and 647 veterans. 

You can help K9s For Warriors thrive in San Antonio by contributing toward the facility. Your donation affects two lives: the veteran who receives a service dog and the dog being rescued from a shelter.