Caring for our community
Paws of Honor
Giving back to the dogs that serve
Bob Youngblood, Paws of Honor founder and president, on the organization’s mission.
When Jackie Langland, Vice President of Operations/System Architect, first learned that military and law enforcement dogs lose their health benefits when they retire, she got mad.
“I don’t understand that,” she said. “They served us too, why can’t they keep their benefits?”
The federal government currently employs around 5,000 dogs, with local and state agencies using many more. While these dogs are stationed all over the country, Northern Virginia’s proximity to Washington, D.C., means an especially high number of retired government dogs call this region home.
But when a dog stops working, the government stops paying for their medical care. So if a dog gets cancer and is forced to retire, the handler gets the bill.
“Depending on their situation, maybe they can’t afford it.” Jackie explained. “[But] that dog probably saved their life more than once. They’re not just going to turn their back on them.”
One local organization, Paws of Honor, is working to fix that. The group works with local veterinary offices to provide free care for retired K-9s and their handlers. The vets give the dogs a 50% discount, and Paws of Honor pays the tab.
“They go above and beyond for these dogs, they really do,” said Jackie, who works in the Shaw Road operations center. “I wanted to help them.”
Jackie loves animals. She has guinea pigs and sugar gliders, but dogs have always held a special place in her heart.
In September 2021, Jackie and her husband rescued a dog that had been left for dead on the side of the road in Jasper, Texas.
Jackie’s husband, Mike, was on a road trip when he noticed a dog lying motionless on the ground. Jasper, named after the town he was found in, had been hit by a car and was in bad shape. Mike thought Jasper was dead. But when the car went by, he lifted his head. Mike immediately turned the car around and called his wife.
“Do not leave him there,” Jackie told Mike. He used a piece of plywood in his car as a makeshift stretcher and rushed Jasper to a local vet.
“The vet said that based on his level of dehydration, he had been left there for at least two days in the Texas summer,” Jackie said.
Jasper got an emergency transfer to a surgical center in Houston, where he had life-saving surgery. Jackie flew down and together she and Mike drove their new dog home to Virginia.
They weren’t sure if he would ever walk again. But Jasper didn’t give up, and soon they were able to start his rehabilitation.
Top left: Jasper and his care team at Lakes Area Veterinary Hospital in Jasper, TX. (Photo: Jackie Langland); top right: Jasper works on mobility in rehab. (Photo: Jackie Langland); bottom left: Jasper celebrates graduating from rehab. (Photo: Jackie Langland); bottom right: Jackie with Jasper and her other dog, Stormy, enjoy an outdoor festival. (Photo: Jackie Langland)
Jackie grew close to the veterinary staff as they helped Jasper recover. It was at one of Jasper’s rehab sessions that she first heard about Paws of Honor.
She was chatting with Kirsty Oliver, a veterinary nurse helping Jasper, and told her about MainStreet Bank’s new Making Change program. Jackie asked if Kirsty knew of any organizations that could use the money. Kirsty immediately told her about Paws of Honor. She checked out the website, and the stories she read about older dogs resonated deeply.
At the time, Jackie’s senior dog River, who passed away in April 2023, had just been diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, an incurable disease of the spinal cord that progressively immobilizes dogs.
“[Dogs] deserve to have a happy senior stage in their lives… They deserve people who won’t just put them down so they’re not a bother anymore.”
Since many K-9s retire due to age or health problems, they lose benefits right when they need them the most. Paws of Honor’s website says that about 40% of a dog’s lifetime veterinary expenses occur during the last two years of their life.
Jackie is intimately familiar with the financial implications of caring for a sick or injured dog. Rescuing Jasper has cost over $25,000 so far.
After Jasper’s first surgery, which cost around $8,000, they set up a GoFundMe page and started selling Etsy crafts to help cover the costs. They raised over $13,000, but paid the rest out of pocket.
After his surgeries, Jasper needed more vet trips, x-rays, CAT scans, rehab, and hydrotherapy sessions, where dogs work on their mobility in a water tank.
Hydrotherapy is a common treatment for retired K-9s that often have mobility issues from age or injury. It helps dogs rebuild muscle, but the costs can really add up if dogs need repeated treatments.
“That water tank appointment, depending on what else they do… that’s a $200 plus appointment,” Jackie said.
With a retired life expectancy of three to five years, the average cost to owners is between $6,000 and $12,000, according to Paws of Honor.
MainStreet Bank presents a donation to the Paws of Honor team at Old Dominion Animal Health Center. From left to right: Dr. Buck Drummond, Soshinie Singh, Cassie Browne, Bob Youngblood, Jackie Langland, Roshni Amat, Lisa Kilgour. (Photo: Tyler McLatchy)
The organization was founded by Bob Youngblood, president and chief financial officer of Old Dominion Animal Health Center in McLean, Virginia.
He witnessed the intense bond between dogs and their handlers firsthand in the aftermath of 9/11, as dogs who were working at the site of the Pentagon attack came in for treatment. He knew he wanted to do something to help. It took some time, but in 2015 he was finally able to start Paws of Honor.
Since then, the organization has raised about $3.4 million and served almost 600 dogs.
“We started with six dogs in the program, and now we’re getting about 10 new applicants a week,” Bob said.
Old Dominion provides a substantial amount of service to Paws of Honor, but one animal hospital can’t meet the entire need. Bob has enlisted 41 veterinary partners in 31 states, where handlers can take their retired dogs for free care.
With a constantly growing pool of dogs, Paws of Honor has to get creative with fundraising. They have a sponsorship program where you can pick a K-9 to support and the organization is constantly hosting events like golf tournaments, raffles, and 5K charity runs. They’ve even partnered with local distilleries to produce and sell an official Paws of Honor whiskey and bourbon.
Bob says the organization is also looking to establish corporate sponsorships to provide a more consistent and reliable source of revenue.
They haven’t had to turn away any dogs yet. But as the number of applicants continues to grow, paying for all of them will become more and more challenging.
In the long run, Bob hopes the government will change its policies and start funding the care of retired K-9s. But for now, every donation counts.
Jackie’s coworkers Lisa Kilgour, Marie Stoneberger, Soshinie Singh, and Roshni Amat were inspired by the Paws of Honor story. They put their money together and donated a total of $3,250, enough to pay for over a year of a retired dog’s medical expenses.
Jackie’s own dog Jasper is doing much better these days. He graduated from rehab, he can walk, he can run, and he’s enjoying life. He wasn’t able to keep his tail and will always have medical issues, but he’s able to live like a normal dog again.
Jackie says he’s an extremely trusting and sweet dog, who’s never met a human he didn’t want pets from.
“He has been just an amazing experience,” she said. “We’ve met so many really amazing people from him and now, all the way going to Paws of Honor. He’s just opened up many things for us.”
Left: Bob, a Paws of Honor retired explosives detective dog. (Photo: Paws of Honor); Right: Maggie, a retired explosive detection dog with her handler Rene. (Photo: Paws of Honor)
To learn more about Paws of Honor visit pawsofhonor.org