PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – At the latest K9s for Warriors graduation Thursday evening in Ponte Vedra Beach, the nationally known nonprofit got some star power help with a young actress making a name in Hollywood.
Saniyya Sidney, 12, is also making a commitment to canines and the heroes they serve.
The graduation had military pomp and circumstance, accented by the occasional interruption of barking and laughter. The K9s for Warriors commencement showcased the bond formed between a rescue dog and the warrior they rescue.
"This is Rucker. He's from Southampton dog shelter that they rescued. And it was kind of a coincidence because I'm from Long Island, New York, myself," said Ricardo A. Reyes, who served in the Army. "It was a great match. I love this dog."
Sidney was there for the graduation, helping K9s for Warriors CEO Rory Diamond deliver congratulations and certificates. Known for her roles in “American Horror Story,” “Hidden Figures” and “Fences,” she’s become a fan of this program.
"I think it's very important that animals have a healing spirit," she said. "I think it's important. It changes a lot."
Sidney’s grandfather connected her to K9s for Warriors and it’s clear to her, and everyone who attended Thursday's graduation, that a connection with a service dog makes a difference for heroes such as Reyes. That bond took a willing partner in Rucker.
"From day one, he came right up to me and then he jumped up and put his paws on me, gave me a hug. So we started the bond right away, which was great, made me feel really good and really comfortable because I was very nervous, very nervous, and my anxiety was up," Reyes said. "So he made it really good and our bond has gotten stronger since."
K9s for Warriors was founded in Northeast Florida and has the mission of training and teaming service dogs with warriors suffering from unseen injuries. Those include post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and military sexual trauma. Of graduates, 82% report a decrease in suicidal thoughts.