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Paying it forward: Local veteran’s wife donates book proceeds to help disabled veterans gain independence

By Staff | Jan 3, 2020

MK9s Director of Operations and K9 Programs Michele Khol sits with 13-month-old service dog Legend, as she talks with Linda Adams, of Harpers Ferry, in Four Seasons Books on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Max Lilly, of Harpers Ferry, watched as his four-and-a-half-year-old emotional support dog, Kirby, relaxed on the floor of Four Seasons Books on Saturday afternoon.

The emotional support dog, according to Lilly, was given to him a couple of years ago, and has improved the quality of his life as a disabled veteran. After serving for six years in the U.S. Air Force and reaching the rank of warrant officer, Lilly was honorably discharged from the military.

Unfortunately, Lilly did not leave the military free from scars.

“I’m a disabled veteran. But when I fall, he comes to help me get up and he follows my commands,” Lilly said of his dog, mentioning that his dog was matched up with him, after failing to meet the strict requirements for becoming a full-fledged service dog.

“He didn’t become a service dog, because he’s afraid of loud noises and too friendly,” Lilly said, mentioning Kirby also helps him deal with his post traumatic stress disorder. “So he’s an emotional support dog now, and my best buddy. I go everywhere with him.”

Kirby, a four-and-a-half year old Labrador Retriever, takes a break from helping his veteran in Four Seasons Books on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

Lilly’s wife, author Pam Clark, has seen how having a service dog has improved Lilly’s life. On Saturday, at the book signing in Four Seasons Books for her first book, “Shoot if You Must,” Clark announced that 10 percent of the proceeds from the book’s sale will be donated to an organization similar to the one that gave her husband his emotional support dog.

The 501(c)(3) organization, MK9s Service Dogs, was founded in Vienna, Va. in June by Michele Khol, the International Association of Canine Professionals Certified Service Dog Trainer who trained Kirby.

“Our organization is a little different than most service dog programs. We first meet the veterans, and then go out and find a Labrador Retriever or German Shepherd puppy that will suit the veteran’s personality and needs. It’s very exciting, because we can customize their training to the veterans from the beginning,” Khol said, mentioning the application process requires a house visit, to ensure the dog will be living in a safe environment.

Another layer of protection for the dogs is also required of their veterans, as they and their dogs are required to pass an annual access test, based on one developed by the IACP.

“I adapted their industry recognized test for our purposes,” Khol said, mentioning the test analyzes the dogs’ health and how well their veterans maintain their training. Test failure will lead to the dogs being placed with new owners.

Although MK9s Service Dogs’ training and care standards are high, Khol said they are necessary, as service dogs need to be able to give immediate help to their owners, and may be impeded in doing so, if they aren’t taught and cared for properly. Khol also said her higher standards set her dogs apart from other service dogs, which may not have been adequately trained to care for their owners’ needs.

“Service dogs are not a regulated entity, which is why there are so many fakes out there,” Khol said, mentioning her dogs’ breeding and thorough training makes each one of them worth about $75,000, while most trained service dogs are valued between $28,000-$30,000.

94 percent of donations given to MK9s Service Dogs go right back into the dogs, with six percent going to administration costs. The organization is looking for regular donors, as well as volunteers from throughout the region.

“We obviously always take donations, but what we’d really love, is to get more volunteers to be K9 mentors — to take a puppy into their homes. We provide everything they need to care for the puppies, except for food,” Khol said, mentioning food can also be provided, if volunteers cannot afford it.

Puppy babysitters are also needed, to take care of the puppies when their mentors are on vacation.

To learn more, visit www.mk9servicedogs.org, or contact Khol at 703-336-3618 or mk9servicedogs@gmail.com.