After U.S. Marine Corporal David Sonka was killed in Afghanistan in 2013, his father, Kevin, wanted to do something to honor his memory while helping other veterans who had returned from war so he created the Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project.
It was May 4, 2013, and the Marines took off their armor to show solidarity and trust of the Afghan trainee force. An infiltrator took the opportunity to shoot and kill David and his war dog Flex.
David Sonka’s death prompted his father to form the non-profit organization Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project and travel across the country to host steak dinner barbecues for military dog handlers and their families. Last year, the organization began providing service dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). So far, the organization has placed five dogs with veterans. On February 3, with the help of a sponsorship from the Florida Panthers hockey team, a sixth dog will be placed with a veteran.
Sonka says that the dogs help veterans readjust to civilian life. He describes one Marine who has difficulty going out in public since he returned from war.
“Since he’s gotten his dog, he’ll go out in public,” Sonka said. “The dog will shield him from crowds — it puts a barrier between him and the crowd. the dog can sense when that veteran is feeling anxious or getting up set, and the dog lets him know everything is OK.
“The veteran could have different issues. We train the dog specifically for the issues the veteran has.”
The Rocky Mountain Dawgs Project hosts several fundraisers a year, including its Annual Corporal David M. Sonka Memorial Poker Tournament and Live Auction.
Corporate sponsorships of veteran/dog teams also would be helpful, Sonka said.
Creekstone Farms provides the steaks for the barbecue, and the organization has recently teamed up with Raising Cane’s and is hoping to hold a national fundraiser to help pay for training the dogs.
“The biggest thing we need is funding,” Sonka said. “And I do need another truck to pull the trailer.”