WHEN THE Department of Veteran’s Affairs told retired Sgt. and OIF veteran Hamilton Kinard that he would need a service dog but that they wouldn’t pay for it, his wife Britnee made it her mission to challenge this policy. About 18 months later, Kinard was the recipient of the first mobility assistance approved animal in the Southeast region.
Britnee Kinard discovered the organizations that donate funds for service dogs were bombarded with people requesting help, sometimes resulting in a two-to-three-year wait. She saw the risk.
“It’s almost pointless to wait that long,” she said. “There are so many people that need them and not enough organizations. It makes it hard, especially when you have someone who’s struggling with stress disorder or has mobility issues and needs a dog to get them through the day.”
To address the need for vets, first responders and exceptional children, Britnee Kinard created the S.D. Gunner Fund, providing money for the cost of obtaining service animals, care and supplies.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are four million vets that have a service-connected disability. Service dogs perform actions directly related to their owner’s needs, helping them live independently. They may remind someone to take medication, sound the alert for a life threatening condition or even pull a wheelchair.
On Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the 501c3 charity is partnering with the Savannah Kennel Club and National Spay Alliance Savannah to hold a “Vets for Heroes” veterinary clinic at the new National Spay Alliance office at 11 Gateway Boulevard South in Savannah. The Teresa Coward Real Estate team is sponsoring the event.
The goal of the day is to allow military and first responders to bring their dogs or cats for free care, including exams, vaccines, micro-chipping, flea and heartworm medication and future scheduling to receive free surgeries. There are also pet vendors scheduled, offering everything from nail trims and answers to dog training questions.
“If a person is having a hard time paying for care then this is a way to relieve that burden,” Britnee Kinard said. “We can catch you up on all of your basic care.”
The event is not limited to service animals. All first responders and military members with dogs or cats are invited to attend. Participants will be asked to show an ID confirming their status.
Donna Pfendler-Merkle, community outreach coordinator for the Savannah Kennel Club, believes the goals of the two organizations align, uniting the community and promoting responsible dog ownership. She said she has worked on the vendor end of this event, hoping to be able to offer shopping, education and training opportunities for guests.
“There are a lot of people who were formerly in the military that belong to our club,” she said. “This is just natural that we want to support this.”
The organization works throughout the year to get Savannah’s dog community together for sports, educational programs and fundraising for local shelters.
Britnee Kinard and the SD Gunner Fund have won countless awards for their advocacy, including a 2020 George H.W. Bush Point Of Light Award honoring individuals who change the world.