Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. Every 8 seconds, one dog is euthanized.
Madison Huber, a freshman studying animal and veterinary sciences at Clemson University, thinks these statistics are devastating –– but not entirely hopeless.
For the past three years, Huber has fundraised for a program called K9s for Warriors, which adopts dogs from kill shelters, trains them as service dogs, and donates them to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. These efforts save the dogs from being euthanized and even save veterans’ lives, as well.
This initiative is just one of the many programs organized by the Zilinski Foundation, which seeks to improve the morale and welfare of members of the United States Armed Forces and their families. The foundation was created in honor of Lieutenant Dennis W. Zilinski II, who was killed in active duty in Iraq in 2005. Dennis’ family and their Middletown, N.J. community, of which Huber is a part, hold many fundraisers and initiatives throughout the year in Dennis’ honor.
Huber was recently recognized at the Zilinski Foundation’s “A Toast to Dennis” annual gala for the impact of her fundraising. Over her three years of involvement, Huber raised a total of $69,000 for the cause.
“No, we may not have completely solved PTSD, but every dog we rescue, every penny we raise, makes a tremendous difference to the veterans and their families,” said Huber. “One more dog means one less animal left abandoned in the shelter, one less soldier turned away from receiving treatment as if their sacrifice meant nothing, and one less family left with heartbreak.”
Each donation of a dog requires approximately $15,000 of funding to cover the cost of training and vet expenses. As part of the program, the single donor or group that sponsors the full cost of training receives the honor of naming the dog.
“I named the dog Phoenix, because in ancient mythology, the Phoenix is a bird that, when it dies, rises from the ashes. With the gift of this dog, I hope and pray that this veteran will be able to leave his or her pain behind, and rise from the ashes of the battlefield,” said Huber.
Huber raided money to sponsor four different dogs by conducting an annual bootcamp event. She reached out to local businesses, her church and school, and the broader community to collect donations and recruit participants. Veterans have expressed intense gratitude for the impact the dogs have made on their lives.
“The program gave me great tools to use in battling my PTSD in the form of Andy, my awesome new furry buddy. I also gained a new group of brothers that I went through the training with, and we support each other,” said William Cooks, a veteran of the U.S. Navy. “I plan on continuing to push myself with the help of Andy to go out into public and spread the word about K9s For Warriors. I didn’t leave anyone on the battlefield in Iraq, and I will not leave anyone behind now that I am back home.”
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