The staff and volunteers of Dulles-based Veterans Moving Forward held a graduation ceremony Sunday afternoon, sending service dogs Kirby and Albie to live at their new homes.
They were raised from puppies by volunteers who helped train them to help give military veterans a better quality of life.
Kriby is a 2-and-a-half-year-old yellow lab named in honor of Lt. Daniel Kirby Burke, a Navy Seal who died from cancer in 2011. He’s now living with Max Lilly, a retired U.S. Air Force mechanic and engineer dealing with PTSD and Parkinson’s disease.
“Kirby has made a difference in my life. My wife said that when I got Kirby he gave my life back to me,” Lilly said. “I’m so proud of Kirby. I’m so happy to have him.”
Albie, a 17-month-old cream golden retriever, is named in honor of U.S. Army Specialist Albert R. Jex, who was killed in 2009 when his Humvee was hit by a suicide car bomber in Iraq. He’ll be helping retired U.S. Col. Bob Williams, who said he needs Albie to help him get off the couch and stay active with walks that can help alleviate the respiratory problems that come with 40 years of cigarette smoking.
Jex’s mother, Cathy McFarline, attended Sunday’s ceremony and said that her son was the type who was always there to help. She said she was please that “a dog named after my son carries on his legacy of helping somebody else.”
“Albie’s just a great companion. A perfect companion,” Williams said. “He’s a smart guy and we enjoy the heck out of him. We do a lot of laughing when he’s in the house, believe me.”
“For both Kirby and Albie, these dogs are going to be the motivating factors in their veterans’ lives, to get out and actually enjoy life with their family, their spouses, and to always be turning a day that might not be as happy of a day into a very happy and exciting day,” said Michelle Khol, the director of canine operations.
In addition to turning the dogs over to their new owners, Sunday’s ceremony honored the dozens of people who supported their development and training, including puppy raisers, dog sitters, the breeders and other volunteers and donors.
Founded in 2010, Veterans Moving Forward is a nonprofit that seeks to be the leading source of service dogs and canine therapy services to veterans who have physical and/or mental health challenges, to make a meaningful difference in their lives, and increase their safety and independence within their homes and communities.
This year, the organization plans to train nine puppies as veteran service dogs and 10 therapy dogs.
Nancy Tang was Kirby’s puppy raiser. “It is truly a labor of love and it just warms my heart to see the effect Kirby has had on [Lilly’s] life,” she said. “It takes a village to achieve this. … If you ever have time in your life, in your heart, to do this, do it. Just do it.”
Learn more at vetsfwd.org.