Smoky Mountain Service Dogs announces plans to serve more veterans in need on 9/11

September 11, 2017

$500,000 capital campaign seeks public’s assistance to fund new service dog training facility

From left, former Marine Sgt. Bradley Walker with his mobility assistance dog, Bella, is pictured with Suzy Kitchens, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs board member at large; Mike Kitchens, chairman; Elaine Lintner, board member at large; and Susan Shemwell-Randall, lead trainer, with mobility assistance dog, Dagger.

On Monday, Sept. 11, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs announced plans to serve more veterans in need through a capital campaign called: “More Wags for Warriors.”

The name, “More Wags for Warriors,” represents how the funds raised will allow the organization to double the number of veterans helped per year, and, in turn, further the organization’s mission to enhance the physical and psychological quality of life for veterans with service-related disabilities by providing certified service dogs.

The goal of “More Wags for Warriors” is to raise $500,000 to enable the non-profit organization to serve more veterans by building a facility to house 18 dog kennels, grooming area, training space and administrative offices. The campaign was launched at the future site of the new facility at 8376 Fairview Road in Lenoir City.

“Service dogs significantly change the lives of veterans with service-related disabilities,” said Mike Kitchens, chairman of Smoky Mountain Service Dogs. “This new facility will allow us to increase the number of dogs we train and veterans we serve every year by providing adequate space to train, house and care for our service dogs.”

A certified service dog requires approximately 1,800 hours of training. Smoky Mountain Service Dogs currently trains dogs at off-site facilities, such as shopping malls and churches. Once a dog is trained and matched with a veteran, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs must also provide the veteran with classwork and hands-on exercises with the dog.

Bradley Walker, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and Smoky Mountain Service Dogs recipient, spoke at the event about how a service dog significantly changed his life.

Walker, who lives in Jefferson County, was on his second deployment in Haqlaniyah, Iraq in November 2006, when the vehicle he was driving struck an improvised explosive device (IED). Walker lost both of his legs in the explosion. In 2014, Walker received Bella, a canine provided by Smoky Mountain Service Dogs.

“I am beyond grateful for the generosity and support I’ve received from my family, community and Smoky Mountain Service Dogs,” Walker said. “Bella is always there when I need her. I rely on her for so many daily tasks. Bella has given me my life back.”

Smoky Mountain Service Dogs is nearly halfway to its $500,000 goal. In June, the organization received a $225,000 donation toward “More Wags for Warriors” from the American Valor Foundation, located in Hamilton, Texas. The foundation is a non-profit corporation committed to supporting military veterans, first responders and their families. Each year, the American Valor Foundation selects a recipient for the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit to honor the legacy of the U.S. Navy SEAL who died Feb. 2, 2013. Kyle was the author of the best-selling book, “American Sniper,” which was made into a movie by Clint Eastwood.

“The generosity of the American Valor Foundation is a great foundation for the campaign,” Kitchens said. “Now, we need support and donations from our community, and we ask anyone who is looking for a way to give back to the men and women who served our country to donate to “More Wags for Warriors.”

For more information about Smoky Mountain Service Dogs or to donate to “More Wags for Warriors,” visit www.smokymountainservicedogs.org.

About Smoky Mountain Service Dogs

Smoky Mountain Service Dogs is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and is the only organization headquartered in Tennessee that is accredited by Assistance Dogs International.  Smoky Mountain Service Dogs is dedicated to enhancing the physical and psychological quality of life for wounded veterans and their families.