“We are saving two lives at the same time”: how K9s for Warriors finds the dogs that will be associated with veterans

San Antonio is home to the nation’s largest supplier of assistance dogs for military vets.

SAN ANTONIO – Rob Gunsel and Elsa are still getting to know each other. Gunsel walks the dog on a leash and reviews some commands; Elsa can sit, stay and lie down.

“She’s in our third week, so she’s just learning the basics here,” Gunsel said. “Basically teaching him that training is fun and worth doing. ”

Elsa is eager to please, almost smiling as she quickly responds to Gunsel’s commands. Gunsel said that’s one of the qualities that makes her a great fit for their program.

“We want a dog who wants to engage with us, who is ready to work, who is ready to please, who accepts love, just like that,” Gunsel said.

Gunsel is the K9 training manager for K9s for Warriors in San Antonio, the nation’s largest provider of service dogs for veterans. It is Gunsel’s job to prepare dogs like Elsa for a life of service. They are handpicked in animal shelters for this opportunity.

Lina Eklof, director of the K9s for Warriors campus in San Antonio, said they currently have 21 dogs in their care. And everyone has that “something special”.

“We have our procurement team; they go there, they create or partner with shelters all over Texas, ”Eklof said. “They are scouring the kennels to see what types of dogs are there.”

Eklof said dogs should be of a certain age and size. They must also pass a temperament test.

She said it’s not easy to find dogs that have what they’re looking for.

“For example, we went to Dallas a few weeks ago and came back with two dogs to the three shelters we visited,” Eklof said.

Once dogs are accepted into the program, they become part of the K9s for Warriors family. They will train for about six months before being paired with a Warrior.

“It’s really cool to watch the progress, of course, from when we first took them out of a shelter and see how they blossom into what I believe, what they were supposed to. do, “Eklof said. “It’s like two lost souls come together and together they form this brand new soul.”

As service dogs, they will help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) or military sexual trauma.

Sergeant Amanda Peterson spent nine years in the US Army Reserve. During this time, she was deployed once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. After that, she spent another nine years battling PTSD and TBI.

The pain she was feeling, she said, was hurting her relationship with her husband, children and friends.

“All of my emotions came out in the form of anger,” Peterson said. “When I was scared or upset, all my emotions were anger instead of sad. It made it difficult, especially for my children.

She was paired with her K9, Chesdin, in 2019. Peterson said Chesdin gave her independence, confidence and comfort. The two go everywhere together.

“He’s an extension of me,” Peterson said. “And he was wandering. He was saved and I didn’t know his story before that, but now we can write our own story.

Gunsel said it was gratifying to see countless hours of training come to fruition. He smiles at Elsa, who continues to impress. He knows his second chance is full of promise.

“We’re not just saving the dog’s life, or just the life of the Warriors,” Gunsel said. “We are saving two lives at the same time here.”

To date, K9s for Warriors has trained nearly 700 Warrior-K9 teams and rescued over 1,300 dogs in total. Assistance dogs are offered free of charge to veterans.

There is a high demand for assistance dogs from K9s for Warriors, with the waiting list going until 2026.

If you would like to support K9s for Warriors, click here to find out more.


About Chuck Keeton

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