Group training dogs for vets raises $72K

Posted 11/16/23

Max Hansen, of Powell, served in the U.S. Navy for eight and a half years, working as a nuclear machinist mate on the USS Nimitz. 

Last weekend, he was one of three veterans to …

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Group training dogs for vets raises $72K


Max Hansen, of Powell, served in the U.S. Navy for eight and a half years, working as a nuclear machinist mate on the USS Nimitz. 

Last weekend, he was one of three veterans to receive a service dog from K9 Elite, an organization based in Lovell that helps provide trained service dogs to veterans in need. 

K9 Elite, founded in 2019, started off training and providing four service dogs per year. That number grew to 10 in 2020, and then to 14 last year. The dogs are provided to veterans and first responders free of charge. Since its inception, K9 Elite has trained 26 dogs for vets.

This year, K9 Elite owner Wes Mangus said, the organization hopes to train eight to 10 dogs after receiving $72,000 in donations, $14,000 more than last year, at its fundraising banquet Saturday at Heart Mountain Hall. 

“I’m hoping over the next couple of years to turn it into a $100,000 event and be able to do 15 dogs per year, or higher caliber dogs, like seizure dogs,” he said. “If the money is raised, we can have an open platform of opportunities as far as what we can do.”

At the event, Hansen and two other veterans received their dogs. 

Sgt. Robert Cole, of Iron River, Michigan, is a U.S. Army veteran and served four years and seven months. Based at Fort Riley, Kansas with 1-4 Cavalry Regiment, he deployed to Baghdad in 2007 and after multiple combat injuries was medically discharged in 2010. He received two Purple Hearts during his service. 

Ann Williams, from Virginia, retired after 29 years in the U.S. Navy as a nurse. She said her specialty was in the operating room, taking care of casualties at Walter Reed Bethesda. She was also stationed on the hospital ship Comfort.

K9 Elite partnered with the Sacred Mountain Retreat Center in Deadwood, South Dakota. The retreat center was founded by Jerrid Geving to provide support and mentorship to veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD.

Mangus told the Lovell Chronicle last year that the organization regularly provides applications to K9 Elite of those who are in need of a service dog, allowing Mangus to train and provide dogs to those most in need. Training costs $5,000-$7,000 per dog throughout a two year process, as the dogs get to bond as puppies with their veteran, before being taken for months of intense training depending on the needs of the veteran. 

A previous service dog recipient, Brandon Tillman, of Washington State, was the featured speaker at Saturday’s banquet. The veteran and police K9 handler expressed how much his service dog has truly changed his life for the better and has given him the confidence to attend family and public events again. He received his dog Rally from Puppies Healing Heroes, which is partnered with Sacred Mountain Retreat and K9 Elite, three years ago.

Mangus said the majority of the dogs he’s trained can give pressure therapy, psychological distraction and other comforts to counter anxiety, anger, PTSD and night terrors. 

K9 Elite is always looking for donations and those willing to sponsor a service dog for individuals in needs. Those interested can contact Mangus at 307-272-0453.

“Its just mind-blowing,” he said of the fundraising so far. “The little communities we live in to support the vets like that, it’s pretty amazing. 

“We’re pretty fortunate to have the communities we do.”

— Toby Bonner contributed reporting