Aftermath Spotlight: Interview with Mike Ritland, Founder of Warrior Dog Foundation
It’s a well-known fact that Aftermath has a special interest in K9s. From our annual K9 Grant to daily social media like our Instagram account, we’re always on the lookout for new ways to educate the public on the importance of these hard-working animals. One of these ways is connecting with other groups and charities who are doing the difficult work of assisting and supporting K9s and their handlers.
Recently, we were able to connect with Mike Ritland, founder of the Texas-based charity, Warrior Dog Foundation. Ritland, a Navy SEAL who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and other deployments, is a highly respected expert on military K9s. Mike has also authored three books on service dogs, Trident K9 Warriors: My Tale from the Training Ground to the Battlefield, Navy Seal Dogs, and Team Dog: How to Train Your Dog the Navy SEAL Way, and is the president and owner of Trikos International, a company that specializes in training dogs for companies and high-profile clients.
What is the Warrior Dog Foundation?
Warrior Dog Foundation is dedicated to serving the special operations community, their families, and Special Operation Forces (SOF) working K9 military dogs. The K9s employed within special operations are the top tier in the working dog world; they are vital in ensuring the success of some of the US military’s most critical missions. These elite warriors work in austere and dangerous environments and face conditions that many humans cannot. Because of their unique training and careers, many K9s have a difficult time adjusting to civilian life following their service.
Ritland began his work in 2010 with Arko and Carlos, two rescue service dogs who were unable to retire with their handlers. After seeing a need in the community, Ritland created WDF in 2013. Its mission, he says, is to show all of our heroes, human and animal alike, the respect they deserve during their retirement.
The Road Home
Warrior Dog Foundation assists dogs with the transition from an operational environment to civilian life through the use of a state-of-the-art kennel facility, sponsored by Trikos International. The kennels are located in a peaceful setting, located away from urban noise and disruptions. The facilities are cleaned and sterilized twice daily, and the dogs themselves are groomed in accordance with their needs.
To aid in recovery, Ritland employs a trained team of Kennel Assistants, who specialize in the care of K9s whose wounds may be mental as well as physical. The ratio of K9 to handler is purposefully kept low to give the dogs the plenty of attention throughout the adjustment period. Each K9 receives individual attention and playtime at least twice daily to encourage a return to natural play behaviors and improve the overall mental and physical health of the animals.
In just 4 years, Ritland and WDF have successfully rehabilitated and rehomed over 50 K9s. At any given time, WDF may be assisting up to 22 K9s.
Addressing the Public
Warrior Dog Foundation strives to educate the public on the importance of SOF K-9s in combat by showcasing the level of sacrifice these dogs give in support of our troops. Their mission is to rehabilitate military K9s with the goal of rehoming them once their service is completed. Without WDF, these same K9 heroes may face euthanasia.
Beyond saving a dog’s life, there is the value of the bond that is created between animal and handler, and the joy these animals bring to the families who adopt them. Furthermore, as many K9s have saved lives during their time in service, it eases the hearts and minds of the veterans they’ve worked with to know that their former partners and companions are well cared for, happy, and healthy. Of those dogs who are unable to find a forever home, WDF provides them with a comfortable place to live out their retirement.
The Future of Warrior Dog Foundation
As many police departments know, the cost of K9 care can be costly. Ritland states that the average K9 requires $70-$90 a day to see to their well-being. In addition to professionally qualified handlers and staff, this includes maintenance services for the shelter and a special diet of Oma’s Pride Beef and Veggie dog food.
WDF is a 501c3 charity, which means it depends on donations and grants to fund its services. Upwards of 80-90% of all donations go directly to helping the dogs. Ritland states that in 2017 the K9 Care Program cost was $298,000. The projected kennel budget for 2018 is $332,000.
Beyond providing well-deserved K9s with a future, Ritland’s dream also includes establishing a scholarship fund for the families of handlers who are wounded or killed in the line of duty. “We also plan to build a living memorial and museum for SOF K-9s to showcase the talents and awards received in combat operations in support of our nation’s military.”
Aftermath Loves Working Dogs
Aftermath is a proud supporter of K9s in service, as well as their human counterparts. Each year we sponsor the Aftermath K9 Grant, which helps law enforcement departments nationwide offset the expenses of maintaining lifesaving K9 units. We are also devoted to raising awareness and educating the public on the importance of these hardworking animals.