Jessica Harris’ first exposure to working dogs was through her time as a medic on Washington state’s counterdrug task force. But it wasn’t until she retired from the National Guard that she began to give back to her canine companions.
“I’ve always been a huge dog lover from early on, and really being around those dogs specifically, I think it just kind of reinforced, one, just my love of dogs and also just developed a true appreciation and respect for working dogs and their handlers and the amount of training they go through,” said Harris, who joined the Washington Army National Guard in 1995 and retired in 2015.
When she was transitioned out of the service, she got involved with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veteran and Military Families, the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business program and Bunker Labs.
K9 Salute – an all-natural dog-treat company – came to be by accident, according to Harris. In January 2016, eight police K-9s were killed in the line of duty – and 36 had died by the end of the year.
When the fourth was killed, Harris said, she had the idea of telling the fallen canines’ stories and giving back. Her treat company’s branding and packaging features those stories, and a portion of the proceeds goes to organizations that help working dogs – primarily Ohio’s Police K-9 Association and the K9 PTSD Center, which works with military and police dogs who have PTSD.
Harris said she chooses dogs to include on the packaging after learning of a line-of-duty death through the news or the Officer Down Memorial Page.
She then reaches out to law enforcement and the K9 handlers about six months or so after the K-9’s death for permission to include them on the packaging, Harris said.
Among those was Jethro, who was killed in the line of duty in January 2016 while responding to a breaking and entering call with his handler Officer Ryan Davis. Jethro was a part of Davis’ family – intended as a pet for his daughter while also a working dog – from eight weeks old until his death at 3 years old.
“Inseparable,” Davis said of his relationship with Jethro. “He slept in the bedroom with us.”
After Jethro’s death, Davis said, he was inundated with people trying to contact him from “all over the world,” and it was “hard to grasp at the time” what it meant for Harris to include Jethro on K9 Salute’s packaging.
“There’s nothing anybody could really do to help us as far as Jethro,” Davis said. “[But] it was heartwarming to see the support and outreach that came from it.”
Supporting canine organizations
James LaMonte, who owns and operates the K9 PTSD Center, said when Harris reached out to him, she was “so warm and so open minded” about the center’s mission.
“She was so focused on the dogs’ wellbeing and is just an absolutely amazing, beautiful human being,” LaMonte said.
Harris’ interest has been a boon for LaMonte, who said he’s “horrible” at fundraising, but knows K9 behavior.
“I just don’t have that skillset to do that,” LaMonte said. “Somebody like her who steps up and outreaches to us – even the smallest thing – it echoes so loud.”
LaMonte said words “can’t describe” what Harris’ contributions mean.
“Even the smallest attention to the cause and to get people aware of it is priceless,” LaMonte said. “I don’t think she will truly understand how much we appreciate it.”
Harris recently received $10,000 through the FedEx Entrepreneur Fund, which she said came at the perfect time.
“There are other dogs I want to pay tribute to and working with the designer to get new packaging out, adding new products and treats so that there’s a larger variety of treats to offer,” she said.
Harris said she hopes to grow K9 Salute through additional products for dogs and “humans who love dogs,” getting into more retail establishments and expanding nonprofits partnerships to support canine causes.Read comments