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Veterans and service dogs find hope and healing at K9 Partners for Patriots

The Brooksville nonprofit organization offers a training program and canine massage therapy for veterans’ service dogs.
Vreli Covington helps the dogs that train at the K9 Partners for Patriots facility through canine massage therapy.
Vreli Covington helps the dogs that train at the K9 Partners for Patriots facility through canine massage therapy. [ Courtesy of K9 Partners for Patriots ]
Published Oct. 17

There’s a sign that hangs on the front of the K9 Partners for Patriots facility in Brooksville that bears an inspiring message: “Through these doors lies hope and healing.”

Vreli Covington couldn’t agree more.

Covington, a canine massage therapist and certified dog trainer with the Brooksville nonprofit organization K9 Partners for Patriots, has seen firsthand the transformations that take place for veterans there.

“It is life-altering for some of them,” Covington said.

K9 Partners for Patriots is the brainchild of Mary Peter, the organization’s founder and executive director of training operations. At the nonprofit’s 11,000-square-foot facility, Peter’s team, including trainers like Covington, helps military veterans get on the path to finding hope and healing through helping veterans train their own service dogs over the span of 24 weeks.

The organization’s mission is to use these service dogs to prevent veteran suicide. K9 Partners for Patriots gifts active and former military veterans with their own service dogs at no cost. These dogs are rescues or from local shelters; the organization also approves some veterans to train a dog they already own, but the dog must first pass a temperament evaluation. To qualify for the training course, veterans must be diagnosed with service-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury or Military Sexual Trauma.

Trainers with the organization are just as in tune with the veterans they serve as they are with the service dogs. K9 Partners for Patriots goes beyond just teaching skills to the pups in training in that the organization’s trainers are also constantly mindful of and sensitive to any challenges that veterans may be facing.

Here’s how it works: K9 Partners for Patriots’ training program is broken into two parts. First is the basic level, where veterans learn how to teach their service dogs basic obedience skills and commands. Next is the graduate level, where veterans build on these basic commands and teach their service dogs to perform tasks, like how to help their owners out of chairs, that will help the dogs work for the vets in everyday life.

“We try to give them a good overview of what they will need on a day-to-day basis to function as members of society again,” Covington explained.

Covington, who is a professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals, also helps the dogs who train at the K9 Partners for Patriots facility through canine massage therapy.

“Dogs suffer with the same muscular issues that people do,” Covington said. “They get those knots behind their shoulders when they’ve been working hard, or if they have an orthopedic issue or arthritis, the muscles overcompensate the same way that peoples’ muscles do.”

Canine massage therapy helps relieve sore tissues and work out pain points for the K9 Partners for Patriots service dogs. Covington said that some of the signs that a dog may be struggling and need massage therapy are lameness in a leg, nibbling at a paw or part of their body or scratching at a certain area.

“(Service dogs) are working for our veterans 24 hours a day. They work hard. Their bodies can become tired and they’re more prone to injury,” Covington said.

As a rule, the organization typically has its service dogs get a canine massage therapy session a couple of times per year to keep them in good shape and identify potential pain points. Even after veterans and their service dogs graduate from the course, as long as they continue to get recertified, Covington said that canine massage therapy is still available for them.

To learn more about K9 Partners for Patriots, visit https://k9partnersforpatriots.com/ or call (352) 397-5306.

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