JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- K9s For Warriors is the nation’s largest provider of service dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury or any kind of military trauma. On Wednesday, the organization was able to expand their territory by 67 acres in Alachua County.
The million-dollar expansion was a donation by the Gold family. The "Gold Campus" includes a home on the land with nine bedrooms and it's surrounded by a stocked lake and pecan orchard.
The campus will be used to increase K9s For Warriors classes in order to bring in more dogs to the organization to be trained and then paired with veterans.
Randy Dexter, a veteran and graduate of the program, was named Campus Director. He describes the campus as breathtaking.
"I was blown away," Dexter said. "The drive up, you the lights and you saw the Gold Family Campus signs. My breath was taken away and then to come back this morning and see this beautiful scenery behind us, it’s amazing, this is where I’m going to work! It's crazy!"
His service dog Captain will be there every step of the way, along with his family, who he said he almost lost before he discovered the organization.
"I came to K9s For Warriors in 2014 a broken man," he said. "I came from being someone contemplating suicide every single day to someone who just became a top ten finalist for student veteran of the year."
His story of success is echoed by every veteran who has said 'yes' to a K9, like veteran and K9 trainer Greg Wells.
Before his service dog Utah, simple outings, like going to the movies, were nearly impossible for Wells.
"On the rare occasion that I did make it in, I would buy a ticket and then go sit down and either pass out because I had such a bad anxiety attack or I would just freak out and leave," Wells said. "You’re always scanning for another threat."
Now he’s passing on his knowledge and experiences as a K9 trainer.
The youngest K9 to join the squad was picked up by K9 "puppy trainer" Marie Massey on Sunday.
"I love our military and I just wanted to give back to them and this was a great way to give back to them," Massie said. "When you have a puppy for a year you’re going to fall in love with them and you do become attached, but when you see that puppy walk across the stage with his warrior it brings it full circle and it just makes your heart swell, you’re so happy for the puppy and the warrior."