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Innovation for Good: K9s For Warriors and Project Street Vet

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When Shari Duval's son came home from Iraq, he started experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Duval was at a loss for how to help him. The only time he seemed himself was when he was with his dog.

This inspired Duval to take on a new mission: to train shelter dogs as service dogs and pair them with veterans with military-related trauma. Her purpose was simple; she wanted to help restore the lives of veterans who might have similar experiences as her son and end veteran suicide—one of the main goals of K9 For Warriors.

The organization not only focuses on rehabilitating veterans, it also extends the same support to animals. K9 For Warriors gets almost 70 percent of its canine trainees from high-kill shelters, saving the lives of the dogs, who then go on to save their human counterparts.

Studies have shown that, in addition to usual care, service dogs provide “clinically significant reductions in PTSD symptoms … including lower depression, higher quality of life, and higher social functioning.”

CEO Carl Cricco puts it this way: “With the majority of dogs being rescues, our program allows the K9 Warrior team to build an unwavering bond that facilitates their collective healing and recovery.”

It takes four to six months to train a dog, and the veteran will then spend three weeks “on campus” for bonding and training. Cricco notes that “to rescue, train, and pair a service dog with a veteran, it costs roughly $30,000, but we provide that service dog at no cost to the veteran. We rely entirely on donations from those who believe in what we do.”

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Project Street Vet

“Sometimes giving a little can make all the difference.”

Individuals experiencing homelessness have had more than their share of challenges and losses; however, those who have pets seem to take consolation in their companions and tend to form very strong bonds with them.

A study detailed in the Journal of Preventive Veterinary Medicine reveals that “pet owners living homeless have been found to have a lower incidence of depression than those without pets.”

Living in Southern California, veterinarian Dr. Kwane Stewart was acutely aware of how difficult it is for the homeless population to access pet care. For years, he walked the streets in his off hours, offering basic services to those in need: “A quick check-up for the pet, maybe some medication or food… it isn’t a lot but sometimes giving a little can make all the difference.”

Stewart founded Project Street Vet to vastly expand his own efforts to include other veterinary teams and volunteers across California and beyond. With teams now in place from San Diego and San Francisco, to Georgia and Florida, they are well on their way to realizing their goal: to keep people and their pets together and healthy.

This article was originally published in the January-February 2024 issue of alive magazine (US edition).

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