BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — 1st Foundation, an Alabama-based non-profit that provides assistance, training and resources to Special Operations Forces, Police Special Operations, and their families, is currently focusing its efforts on placing former military working dogs with combat veterans to help them heal from the physical and psychological wounds incurred during their time in combat.
The foundation’s push coincides with the release of “Max,” which will premier in theaters across the country this weekend. The film (see the trailer above, but have some tissues ready), is about military working dog Max, a Belgian Malinois, who returns from service in Afghanistan, traumatized by his handler’s death. He’s adopted by the fallen Marine’s family and they help each other heal from their loss.
Canine Post-Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), first officially recognized as a combat affliction in 2009, affects approximately 10 percent of former military working dogs returning from active duty.
1st Foundation works with organizations AMK9 — a world-class K9 training facility in Anniston — to place dogs that need rehabilitation with veterans who could use some companionship, helping them both reacclimate to civilian life.
Some of the dogs simply “aged out” of service (typically at 6 years of age), and some returned with behavioral issues. In February of this year 1st Foundation began placing such K9s with experienced handlers and other veterans.
Next Monday former Marine Sergeant TJ Murray, 37, will travel from Texas to Alabama to adopt a retired working K9 through 1st Foundation.
After joining the Corps in 1997, Murray first began working with drug-detecting K9s during deployments in Puerto Rico. After the 9/11 terror attacks he was then sent to Afghanistan before contracting with the Army Rangers for four years in Iraq, equipping the elite force to train and handle the working K9s to sniff out explosives.
In 2007 Murray encountered a roadside bomb while in Iraq. The explosion injured him severely enough to effectively end his active duty career. Forced into medical retirement, the former Marine is now looking for another way to give back to the dogs who save so many lives in military operations overseas.
An award-winning handler, Murray said he appreciates 1st Foundation’s efforts to give these K9 heroes a comfortable retirement with humans who know their needs.
“There are too many dogs and not enough people [who are trained to handle them],” Murray explained to Yellowhammer Monday morning. “It takes a special kind of person to handle these dogs. These dogs aren’t going to be happy just laying on your couch. They may have a lot of issues.”
When Belgian Malinois, one of the breeds most often trained to be working dogs, age out they often have 6-8 more healthy years. It is these energetic dogs Murray has the most experience with, and hopes he can give a new home on his eight acres in Coldspring, Texas.
“I just want to provide a nice place for military working dogs that have worked so hard over their lives to do what they do,” Murray said. “I want to show them my appreciation.”
Because 1st Foundation has an all-volunteer staff, 100 percent of the donations it receives go toward making it possible for them to provide assistance to the members of Special Operations Forces and Police Special Operations.
To make a tax-deductible donate online, visit their website.