By Cassy Fiano-Chesser
Students at Nease High School are launching a fundraiser for wounded warriors that will have a direct impact right here on the First Coast. The Fun Run and 5K for K9s will take place on Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — and raise money and awareness for K9s for Warriors, a local non-profit organization that has grown into the largest provider in the country of service dogs for disabled American veterans. According to one of the student sponsors, Anna Hampton, the race will be run in and around the grounds of Nease High School and will include booths set up from sponsors and K9s for Warriors.
Nease International Baccalaureate (IB) students reached out to K9s for Warriors when they began planning the event, which was perfect for K9s for Warriors: Veterans Day is one of the most significant days of the year for them. The K9s for Warriors program is 100 percent free for veterans, and in addition to a service dog, provides them services for the rest of their lives.
“We provide service dogs for veterans with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), or military sexual trauma,” Elizabeth Reeser, community relations coordinator for K9s for Warriors, said. “We use 90 percent rescued service dogs, so we’re actually saving two lives.”
The dogs they train are taken from kill shelters to work with veterans, and get a second chance at a new life — just like the veterans they serve.
“We go to places all over Florida, all over the country, and then they’re transported to Ponte Vedra to begin their training,” Reeser said. “We actually just opened a new campus in San Antonio, Texas, and our goal there is to bring in rescue dogs. We won’t have any warriors going to that location; we’re just bringing the dogs to that location, vetting them, and getting them ready to go to Ponte Vedra to be there for the warriors.”
Dogs are trained to help with issues typical to the veteran community, like anxiety, depression, and hypervigilance.
“They learn to alert their warrior if someone is coming up behind them, so they can go out in public without constantly checking over their shoulder and scanning their surroundings,” Reeser said. “Another big thing our service dogs do is be motivating; if you want to lay in bed all day because you’re struggling with depression due to your PTSD, you can’t, because you have to get up to let your dog out and feed them and take care of them — so that’s a motivator. And it’s someone that’s not ever going to judge you or turn away, so it’s kind of a constant companion.”
In addition to the emotional support they provide, the service dogs learn several physical commands as well.
“They learn one called ‘brace,’ where they help a warrior, say, stand up from a chair because they’re feeling dizzy because of their TBI; they can brace on their dog so they don’t fall over,” she said. “And there’s a command we teach all our dogs called ‘bi-lap,’ where they literally just put their front two paws up on your lap when you’re sitting in a chair, and put all their weight and pressure down on you to give you that calming sense, like a weighted blanket.”
The fun run, which will take place at Nease High School at 7 a.m. on Nov. 11, will give all proceeds to K9s for Warriors, and medals will be awarded for different age groups. And according to Reeser, events like this are extremely beneficial for them.
“We could not do what we do without the support that we have,” she said. “Aside from raising funds, which is a great part of it, it gets the awareness out there in the community. It gets our name out there so we can get more supporters, more volunteers, and more people who might not know about us and need a service dog, which could change their life. Everyone isn’t aware of the epidemic of veteran PTSD and veteran suicide, so we think it’s important to just get the word out there about PTSD and about suicide, and the rates in which they persist among veterans. It’s not going to change if people don’t know that it’s happening, so that awareness is crucial.”
The Fun Run and 5K for K9s will begin at 7 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 11 at Allen D. Nease High School, 10550 Ray Road in Ponte Vedra. Medals will be awarded for different age groups, but this is not a time chip event. The event is run entirely by Nease High School students and all proceeds will benefit K9s for Warriors. Visit www.5kfork9sforwarriors.com to register.
Photo courtesy Anna Hampton
Nease students Elkhan Bagirov, Virginia Peery, Anna Hampton, Lindy Gostage, and Taylor Hampson organized the Fun Run and 5K for K9s.