ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – K9s for Warriors is expanding with the hope of shortening the time veterans spend on its waitlist.
The Davis Family and Parc Group donated 5.5 acres of land along U.S. 1, just south of Nocatee Parkway and Race Track Road near the Duval-St. Johns county line, for the largest canine training center of its kind.
The K9s for Warriors' headquarters in Nocatee is only a few miles away. That location can house up to 67 dogs in its kennel. The new site will house about 250 rescue dogs.
Brett Simon, president and co-founder of K9s for Warriors, told News4Jax on Thursday that the expansion will help save lives of veterans.
"It’s tremendous. I mean, it’s going to change lives of veterans that are waiting," Simon said. "Right now, our waitlist is close to 18 months. We are working on getting that down to six months."
Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Joshua Shelton said he believes the need is there. A few years back, Shelton said, he was lost, struggling with alcohol and drug misuse while dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said finding K9s for Warriors changed his life.
"Before that, I put the gun to my head a couple times," Shelton said. "I was just ready to be done because there was no point. You know what I mean? My rage, anger, everything that comes along with PTSD -- being hypervigilant about things, driving on the roadways, seeing trash. It’s your typical stuff that most people don’t really think about."
Shelton said things changed for the better when he was paired with his buddy, Duke.
“I went from 30-something pills a day to zero pills a day,” Shelton said. “I’m very grateful and I’m very blessed to have a service dog. This is a tool, my resource that I can use to help mitigate some of my PTSD. It’s absolutely amazing."
Since 2011, K9s for Warriors has rescued more than 1,200 dogs. The nonprofit has successfully paired hundreds of them with veterans such as Shelton.
With the upcoming expansion, the organization will be able to serve even more veterans suffering with PTSD, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma.
The 5.5-acre property has not been cleared yet, but Simon said the goal is to start building within the next year. Once complete, the new campus will add about 60 jobs in St. Johns County.