During this year’s Birdies for the Brave fundraising event at TPC Sawgrass, K9s For Warriors Founder Shari Duval was honored with the 2019 Birdies for the Brave Courage Award for her tireless efforts, unwavering patriotism and extraordinary service on behalf of veterans.
Even before starting K9s For Warriors, Shari devoted her time and passion to volunteering for a variety of Florida-based veterans’ charities, where she witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual assault, and other invisible wounds of war. She also learned that tragically, 22 veterans with these afflictions die every day from suicide. When Shari saw the symptoms of PTSD in her son, Brett, a civilian K9 police bomb dog handler who served in Iraq, she found a new mission in life: To put all of her time and resources into helping restore the lives of her son and other returning combat veterans.
After extensive research into canine assistance for PTSD, Shari and her husband, Bob, joined with friends including the late Rear Admiral Kevin Delaney to establish a non-profit organization dedicated to training rescue dogs as service canines for veterans to help them return to civilian life with dignity and independence. From its modest beginnings in a small house to its current 9-acre state-of-the-art facility in Ponte Vedra, K9s For Warriors has grown into the nation’s largest veteran service organization that provides highly skilled service dogs to post-9/11, disabled American heroes.
Service dogs are provided to recipients at no cost, with a focus on healing – helping the veterans and paired service dogs build a bond to facilitate healing and recovery. As the healing takes place, veterans can begin reintegration into society with a new “leash” on life as productive citizens who make a positive difference. After completing a three-week training program, the veterans have gained the emotional means to repair their relationships with themselves, their families and their friends. Roughly 90% of the service dogs trained by K9s For Warriors come from shelters or are owner-surrendered. Instead of a life of abandonment or euthanasia, they are given a new purpose. With each graduate pair, K9s For Warriors saves two lives; they rescue the dogs, and the dogs rescue the warriors. Since its inception, K9s For Warriors has graduated nearly 600 warrior-dog teams and saved countless lives.
For her pioneering service to veterans, Shari was presented with the Florida Times-Union’s “10 Who Make a Difference” award as well as the EVE Award, recognizing the most influential women of the community. In 2017, she was also recognized by Jacksonville TEDx, a chapter of the national TED movement which champions “Ideas Worth Spreading” from forerunners of the world’s greatest minds.
From day one, Shari stressed the mission of respecting, honoring and saving the lives of military veterans. She has said, “K9s For Warriors is still a small charity doing huge work. We will never forget our mission. The men and women of our military fought for our tomorrows, so we fight for theirs.”
Shari’s impact on our nation’s veterans, Birdies for the Brave, her community, and our country is immense, and Birdies for the Brave was humbled to honor her with this distinguished award. To learn more about K9s For Warriors, to make a donation, or if you are a veteran in need of a service dog, please visit www.k9sforwarriors.org.