Michele Khol has always had a passion for working with service dogs. And when her son joined the Naval Academy in 2010, she shifted gears to working with veterans in the service dog lane.
“I have been working with service dogs for 19 years,” says Khol. “I first volunteered for 11 years with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, but I come from a military family, so when our son went into the Navy, I made the decision to start looking into working with an organization that aided in helping veterans.”
Khol spent the next six and a half years helping develop their training program before ultimately deciding she wanted to start her own nonprofit assisting veterans.
And thus, MK9s Service Dogs was born.
About MK9s Service Dogs
MK9s matches a qualified veteran with a puppy who is then trained over the next 18 months for their veteran’s specific needs.
Depending on what those needs are, MK9s can train the puppies for mobility assistance, retrievals—whether that be medication or water—or alerting for nightmares and anxiety attacks.
You can see firsthand the impact these puppies are making in these veterans’ lives.
“One of our veterans just flew for the first time by himself down to visit his daughter, and he only felt like he could do that because of his service dog,” shares Khol. “And another one of our veterans just traveled to Aruba with his dog with his family on vacation for the first time.”
Stories like these are what makes this work so rewarding for Khol and the other volunteers.
“Just witnessing the growth and seeing a veteran who hasn’t smiled in years smile while working with their puppy is amazing,” says Khol. “It’s the veterans being able to go back out and live the life that they want to live. The fact that we have a role in that is just very special.”
What Sets MK9s Apart
There are two things that set MK9s apart from other veteran-centered service dog organizations, says Khol.
For one, it is a 100-percent volunteer-based organization.
“We have no paid staff at all,” Khol says. “All admin functions, dog training, mentors, and donated time are voluntary. They all volunteer simply because they’re passionate about the mission of helping veterans and working with dogs.”
The second thing that sets them apart is their process for matching a veteran with a puppy.
“When someone applies, they go through a vetting process, and once approved, we go out and select a puppy specifically for that veteran,” explains Khol.
The veterans begin working with their puppy at just eight weeks of age.
“We believe by doing this, that we’re giving veterans 18-plus months of hope and encouragement as they’re continuing on their recovery journey and growing alongside their puppy,” Khol says.
MK9s has currently placed three dogs since they began, as it takes about two years per dog. However, they are getting ready to graduate a team in November and second team by the end of the year. And there are currently five puppies in training.
All of the MK9 puppies are purpose-bred and have been temperament-tested for suitability as a service dog. They primarily use Labradors, retrievers and German shepherds.
Once a puppy is placed with their veteran, MK9s remains available to assist with any concerns at any point along the way.
“It is very much a family that we have with our veterans,” says Khol. “We’re just expanding their community of support.”
What Are the Requirements?
In order to be approved and matched with a puppy, the applicant must have honorably served in the military; live in a geographical location where MK9s can provide ongoing support (Virginia, DC, Maryland, West Virginia, and Delaware); and be in active counseling for at least six months at the time of applying if any mental health disorders are present. Khol notes that age is not a factor.
“We accept veterans from all generations of the military,” she says.
How to Volunteer or Help
The organization is always looking for more volunteers—especially mentors, or what they like to refer to as “puppy raisers.”
“Our mentors have a tremendous role in the development of their dog because they actually meet the veteran at the beginning and are traveling along with them on their journey,” Khol says. “The puppy is so excited to meet their veteran at the beginning, and it really is a warm-your-heart moment.”
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