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“My whole heart’s desire was to help the veterans in my community.”

Pictured, Mary Peter of K9 Partners for Patriots in Brooksville, works with a vet and his service dog during the training process.
Pictured, Mary Peter of K9 Partners for Patriots in Brooksville, works with a vet and his service dog during the training process. [ K9 Partners for Patriots ]
Published Jul. 2

Those are the words of Mary Peter, a Certified Master Dog Trainer and the founder and executive director of training operations at K9 Partners for Patriots in Brooksville, FL. She is a woman on a mission — a mission to end veteran suicide. And as Shakespeare once put it, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” In her petite frame, Mary holds enough energy, passion, and righteous determination to fuel a small army. And her dog training skills border on mystical.

Mary observed that some dogs have a nose for rising adrenaline levels. This unique sensitivity occurs randomly, and is not confined to a particular breed or gender. In combination with a teachable, easygoing canine personality, it is the foundation for her highly successful methodology. Because when a vet suffering from PTSD, TBI or MST is triggered by something in their environment — whether that’s crowding, too many windows or the sound of a tire blowing out — their adrenaline levels will spike. About the vets she was encountering, Mary said, “They were hurting so badly physically and mentally, and I knew that a [service] dog would make a difference.” And she was absolutely right. The K9 partner that smells that spike will go to the vet to stop the spiral into crisis mode, however it can.

A professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals, Mary is credentialed in the fields of basic and advanced obedience, personal protection, police K9, attack, tracking, retrieval, utility, and disability training. For a number of years, she ran Stillwater Dog Training, where she taught dog owners to train their pups for obedience. But over time, she noticed that veterans participating at Stillwater weren’t staying with the program consistently and were having trouble fitting into the civilian environment. That’s when she shifted her focus and in so doing, found her true calling. She closed Stillwater, and in 2013, started K9 Partners for Patriots. Using her own seed money, she developed the program with the help and advice of Ron Flaville, her first veteran graduate (his dog is a gorgeous black German shepherd named Sophia; “semi-retired,” according to Ron). Ron is now the nonprofit’s CEO.

Mary’s unwavering devotion to vets, and appreciation for the sacrifices they’ve made are such that no veteran will ever have to pay a penny for the dog they are matched with, or for the six months of instruction and lessons involved, or for the individual and group therapy of their on-staff Licensed Clinical Social Worker. What the vet and the dog both get out of it is a second chance at life and for that matter, a second family. Mary explains, “Our therapy is we get the veterans involved in the training from day one. It gives them a sense of pride; it gives them a sense of responsibility.”

While Mary’s efforts are Florida-focused, she and K9 Partners for Patriots mentor like-minded veterans organizations, some of whom have traveled from across the country to study her program. The vets under her tutelage learn through continued practice how to deal with difficult people and tricky situations. With that practice, they become ambassadors for PTSD awareness, for the vet and service dog relationship, and for K9 Partners for Patriots as a whole.

If you’d like to learn more about K9 Partners for Patriots, to volunteer or to see if you qualify to participate in the program, visit k9partnersforpatriots.com or call (352) 397-5306.

K9 Partners for Patriots’ Mission: We exist to prevent veteran suicide, to provide hope and healing for those struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or Military Sexual Trauma (PTSD, TBI or MST). Together we provide a positive path forward through the experience of training and caring for their own service dog in a safe environment of camaraderie, friendship and family that brings veterans from self-doubt to self-confidence; from isolation to reconnection.

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