Former vet finds fulfillment in serving and connecting with others

Top Dogg K9 Foundation held their first annual walk of 22 minutes at Tribble Mill Park in Lawrenceville on May 22. Top ambassador for Top Dogg, former Falcons player and active Air Force captain, Ben Garland, along with Hayden Hurst, Falcon’s tight end, joined in leading the “Give $22 #Save 22” campaign: a monthly donation of $22 to save the average number of 22 veterans that commit suicide each day (nationally).
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Top Dogg K9 Foundation held their first annual walk of 22 minutes at Tribble Mill Park in Lawrenceville on May 22. Top ambassador for Top Dogg, former Falcons player and active Air Force captain, Ben Garland, along with Hayden Hurst, Falcon’s tight end, joined in leading the “Give $22 #Save 22” campaign: a monthly donation of $22 to save the average number of 22 veterans that commit suicide each day (nationally).

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Not all stories or wounds are visible. Not every smiling face means they are OK.

Blake Rashad struggled with anxiety and depression around the age of 7 and his shy personality kept him from meeting new people.

He found a connection with dogs and convincing the neighborhood dog school to hire him, Rashad began his journey with man’s best friend when he was 12.

“Dogs allowed me to communicate with people in a more confident way. I understood dogs and dogs understood me,” he said. “I was amazed with the way I could communicate with dogs, even aggressive dogs.”

Wishing to work full-time with dogs, the former veteran and Atlanta police officer in the K9 division, established Top Dogg K9 Foundation with his wife, Sheila. TDK9 is based in Lilburn but serves all eligible veterans in need of a service dog in the United States.

Its mission is “to reduce the number of military families that are impacted by suicide due to mental illness each year,” according to the website. Their signature program rescues, trains and pairs K9′s with disabled veterans for service, companionship or emotional support.

“We have a society that is not a good look. We have data that is not a good look. We don’t want to see 60 veterans a day take their lives. It’s not beneficial to America to show, so we are asking them to be honest about something we don’t want to be honest about,” Rashad said.

An important talk that he has with the veterans is one of being willing to be in the battle because it is going to take more than just your dog, your therapy or your meds.

“Whatever fancy name you want to place on it, such as PTSD, mental health still has to be addressed for therapy, medicine, coping and learning triggers. Basically you are learning to fight and accept a new norm,” the founder said.

“Here we allow the vet to explore, talk, experience and share their experiences of mental health regardless of how severe it is, and they get a chance to get matched with a dog trained specifically for their disability,” he said. “From night terrors ... to turning on lights … it goes on and on.”

Former Falcon and a top ambassador for the foundation, Ben Garland, reached out to his friend Hayden Hurst to help move the needle on the foundation’s campaign that coincided during National Mental Health Awareness month.

TDK9 hosted their first annual walk at Tribble Mill Park in Lawrenceville on May 22 – a national dog walk for mental health awareness - fundraising for their “Give $22 #Save 22” campaign. A monthly donation of twenty-two dollars to save the average number of 22 veterans that commit suicide each day (nationally).

Between 10 states (virtually) and about 100 people in person, the 22-minute walk raised $11,000 with Hayden Hurst’s matching gift of $11,000.

“To the vets out there that are feeling low, confused, sitting around without a purpose, give us a call - or another organization - but we would love for you to give us a call. All you need to do is step in our threshold, and we will come the rest of the way and will change your life,” Rashad said.

For more information, visit https://topdoggk9.org/ or call 404-566-6602.

Each Sunday we write about a deserving person or charity events such as fun-runs, volunteer projects and other community gatherings that benefit a good cause. To submit a story for us to cover, send to ajc.doinggood@gmail.com.