When veterans return from fighting overseas, the battle is far from over.

  • K9 Partners for Patriots expands facility
  • Nonprofit gives dogs to veterans who struggle with disorders
  • More than 300 veterans are in the program

At home they struggle with disorders like post-traumatic stress.

K9 Partners for Patriots, a Brooksville nonprofit, has quadrupled the size of its facility in order to reach more veterans and assist them in training their service dogs.

“We can do duplicate, multiple classes,” said founder Mary Peter.  “We can do evaluations for dogs while classes are going on. And we also added the scenario room which helps us give real life skills to the veterans before they actually go out into restaurants and doctors’ offices and pet stores and those types of things.”

Peter said they give dogs to veterans who need one. She said more than 300 veterans are currently in the program.

One of those veterans Travis Mack from Clay County, who was a soldier in Iraq for 18 months and then returned as a contractor.

Mack was diagnosed with PTSD in 2008 but it wasn’t until a year ago that he got his German Shepherd “Bear,” his first dog.

Before, he said he didn’t leave home much because crowds and loud noises triggered his anxiety.

“You’re still hyper vigilant,” Mack said. “You hear the least little noise, least little sound, you worry about the least little movement. You worry about people being behind you. There’s no way to turn that off.”

With Bear, he feels more protected and he leaves the house more to go out with his wife and kids.

“Now he’s my battle buddy. I feel like I don’t have to watch my back as hard. I feel like the threats aren’t going to be as evident. I feel like when I walk into the store, I have someone surveying the store along with me,” Mack said.

Peter said the dogs divert the veterans’ attention away from the flashbacks and nightmares.

“They’ll wake them up from nightmares which is much safer for the dog to do than a family member,” Peter said.

Mack called the training he received life-altering.

“I’m most definitely grateful that the program exists. The program changed my life,” he said.

K9 Partners for Patriots also offers a women warriors class as well as counseling and canine massages.

There’s no cost to veterans participating in the program. The nonprofit is funded through donations and grants.