Shari Duval, who founded K9s for Warriors in 2011, passed away this week after a battle with cancer. She was 75 years old.
Duval devoted her life to linking combat veterans with rescue dogs and was affectionately known as “mom” within the nonprofit she grew into a nationally-recognized organization.
The charity trains shelter dogs and pairs them with veterans battling traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health complications.
“I worked as a volunteer for veterans’ charities here in Jacksonville, Florida and watched the amazing work they do to empower our returning military veterans,” Duval wrote in a statement on the group’s website. “I saw firsthand the number of warriors returning home with an invisible disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disability, which inspired me and my family to look for ways to aid these deserving heroes.”
Duval’s son is a veteran K9 police officer who worked as a contractor for the Army as a bomb dog handler. He served two tours in Iraq and returned home with PTSD.
“This really hit home to our family,” she wrote. “After two years of research on canine assistance for PTSD we decided the best way we could help these deserving warriors was to start a non-profit organization to train and give service canines to assist our warriors’ efforts to return to civilian life with dignity and independence.”
She said service dogs, when properly paired and trained, make an amazing difference in helping warriors deal with PTSD and TBI.
K9s for Warriors uses donations to help warriors train with their service dogs and learn to re-enter civilian life. According to their website, the team has helped more than 1,200 canines and more than 650 veterans.
“Our program has been successful, with documented recovery from the debilitating horrors of war, but the need is critical and overwhelming,” she said. “We currently have a year-long waiting list; we must do more. Our plans are to expand our current program to serve more warriors. We will continue our goal of serving our Nation’s Greatest Asset, our Military Men and Women.”
“I’m heartbroken,” said K9s for Warriors CEO Rory Diamond. “She had been valiantly fighting cancer over and over and winning, and this last bout was just too much. Shari created K9s For Warriors through sheer grit, love, and a tenacity that I never knew existed. She pioneered how to love on our warriors and stop veteran suicide. She was like no one else I’ve ever met, and she changed my life forever.”
He continued: “As one of our warriors just said: ‘St. Peter is standing at the Pearly Gates, and when he sees Shari, he will surely open wide the gates of heaven and say “No introduction is needed to a Saint such as yourself.’”
In January, K9s for Warriors renamed its headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach the Shari Duval Campus in her honor. Duval was there for the special occasion, alongside her family.
Duval was a 2017 EVE Award winner for her philanthropic work.
Donations can be made in her honor at www.k9sforwarriors.org.