Deep, caramel eyes peer up distrustfully from behind the gate of his enclosure. Unsure of his new visitors.
Barks, high and low, echo off the walls of Lake City Humane Society — bouncing back and forth like ping pong balls. His brown ears twitch this way and that, white-patched snoot sniffing the air.
Weeks ago, he’d been stretched out on a sofa, sneaking stray pieces of popcorn off the floor. How had he ended up here?
The two visitors approach carefully, but with a bit of excitement in their step. They’d been on the road all day with no luck, and finally — a shimmer of hope at the end of the fluorescent-lit kennel run.
The visitors are a part of the procurement team at K9s For Warriors. The duo spends their days scouring local animal shelters for potential Service Dogs for veterans.
Their list of requirements is extensive. Weight, height, age, temperament — the recipe for a perfect Service Dog.
“It’s exciting,” Travis McCullion, procurement manager, said of the moment. The moment they finally find a shelter dog right for the program.
“We can go out and have zero dogs come back with us. It’s exhausting, and then you finally get that one and you have a feeling it’s going to make it through the entire program. It feels great,” he said.
This dog — all long whiskers and white speckled belly — was the one. He was going to change a veteran’s life.
He was going to change Clinton Carter’s life
Looking for a Way Out
Carter served eight years as an air ambulance pilot in the U.S. Army, deploying twice to Iraq and Afghanistan.
He saw countless IEDs, gunshot wounds, and other injuries during his service, and the trauma stuck with him long after he returned to U.S. soil.
By 2018, he’d reached his breaking point.
“I didn’t have any answers, and I couldn’t do it on my own,” he said.
The substances weren’t working anymore, and he wasn’t sleeping. PTSD took its toll. He felt like a burden to his wife and kids.
“I was looking for a way out,” he said.
After two attempts at taking his own life and six months in therapy, Carter decided to try a Service Dog.
His name was Patriot.
It’s almost as if he was rescued from Lake City Humane Society specifically for Carter.
Lake City is roughly forty minutes from K9s For Warriors’ Northeast Florida headquarters. Patriot was the last dog they had time to test that day before making the trip home.
They typically drive up to 260 miles in each direction to search for dogs, visiting two to three shelters daily to perform temperament tests to find suitable candidates.
He was brought to the shelter with his sister, and he seemed almost lost, cowering in the last corner kennel.
At the time, Carter definitely needed a friend.
For Carter, one of the most difficult parts of acclimating to civilian life was interacting with his peers. Just a simple conversation felt like running a marathon.
“A lot of my compassion — the ability to relate to somebody — was just gone,” he said. “The hardest thing I had to adjust to was just being a civilian.”
But Patriot could do what people could not.
“A dog doesn’t care if you had a bad day or a good day, whether you’re struggling or not,” he said. “He’s always happy to see you with his tail wagging.”
After years of anger and anxiety, the moment he met the brown-eyed pointer was a breath of relief.
“It was a finally kind of moment,” he said. “It wasn’t a feeling I had ever felt before.”
The K9s For Warriors procurement team runs through an intentional checklist while searching through shelters for program candidates.
The German shorthaired pointer mix checked all the procurement team’s boxes.
50 to 80 pounds? Check.
One to three years old? Check.
Roughly 22 to 27 inches tall? Check.
Perfect temperament? Check.
He was just waiting for his second chance. Just like Carter.
“By then, I was past my second chance,” said Carter. “I would say I was on my fourth or fifth chance with a lot of people. For him to have a new chance, I thought, ‘I’m never going to leave you behind. You are going to be my buddy.’”
He said it was nearly as emotional as the birth of his children. A new start for both of them.
Carter wasn’t taking the commitment lightly.
“When I think of dogs that were abandoned for whatever reason — ‘I can’t take care of you, you’re too much’ — that’s how I felt before I started getting better,” Carter remembers. “I was a burden. I was too much.”
He could see himself in his new partner.
Since the duo’s pairing in 2022, Carter’s life has made a complete 180. Once unable to leave the house, he now takes regular trips to the golf course, Patriot by his side. The floppy-eared pointer quickly became a club favorite.
For Patriot and Carter, there was a happy ending.
But procurement manager McCullion said not every day of work ends that way.
“The hardest part of the job is leaving those dogs at the shelter we can’t take because they don’t meet our requirements,” he said. “There are a bunch of dogs in shelters that need homes, but we can’t take them all.”
Many dogs are still waiting for their second chance. Their finally moment.
Many of the dogs procured for our program are deemed unsuitable for Service Dog life, but they are perfect pets. These pups are ready for their forever homes.
We provide Service Dogs at zero cost to veterans. But the training process is costly — roughly $25,000. Help fund the training and pairing of a lifesaving Service Dog like Patriot for a veteran like Clint.