TAMPA, Fla. - K-9s for Veterans is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to rescuing disabled veterans and dogs. They've given away 100 dogs, but may soon give away their last.
For about four years, Mike Halley, a Vietnam veteran, has trained ADA-certified service dogs. A service dog can cost about $20,000, but Halley gives them away to other veterans for free.
"When a veteran comes in, it's just amazing how they change. You have to see it to believe it," Halley said. "They get a night's sleep, finally. They can smile, finally."
George Kincaid is one of them. The Air Force veteran received Lola as his service dog a few months ago, after suffering severe depression due to arthritis he attributes to his work relating to Cold War-era missiles.
"I didn't feel like there was anything to live for. I felt like I was useless," Kincaid said. "She is my constant companion. She stays by my side. She sleeps by me and we have a great time together. Where I go, she goes."
Veterans like Kincaid may no longer have that opportunity. Faced with decreasing donations Halley attributes to the economy, the kennel faces a monthly $1,500 shortfall. Food and veterinary costs for the 11 dogs typically add up to $5,000 per month.
Halley has 15 veterans planning a trip to Tampa to meet their new service dogs, but he has informed other veterans seeking dogs that he can no longer accommodate them until donations increase again.
He got teary-eyed thinking about the possibility that he might have to close his kennel.
"We don't want to talk about that. It's not gone yet. We're working on it," Halley said. "I'm a Marine. I'm not a quitter. If I have to do one dog at a time, I'll keep going."