The community of Maxville is a tiny 400 yard stretch of Granite County along Highway 1, and the only thing going on in town is usually at the local V.F.W. post. It's a place you can sometimes find David "Dogman" Riggs. Riggs is the founder of K9 Care Montana, and he's helped dozens of veterans over the past 8 years by providing them service dogs.
Riggs began training service dogs in 1986 when he was helping to train his own after suffering severe injuries, including paralysis from the waist down, in 1984. Riggs learned to walk again and has trained Labrador Retrievers professionally ever since. When Riggs relocated to the Philipsburg area many years later, he viewed the natural landscape as beneficial in his recovery from his injuries. Riggs says he already knew the benefit of service dogs and thought many times about combining them with the Montana landscape to help others.
The impact of the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks and the death of Philipsburg native Kyle Bohrnsen six years later in Iraq led Riggs to found K9 Care Montana in 2009 to help veterans. It's a unique program that not only provides service dogs, but also provides a vacation experience for the veterans and their families in Granite County to help them relieve stress.
Riggs says it takes years and tens of thousands of dollars to train the service dogs he provides. "We provide the dogs to the veterans at no cost to them," he says," and that's something I was adamant about right from the start." K9 Care Montana raises the money through general donations, poker runs, and other special events through the year. Riggs also says he spends much of the winter months writing grant proposals.
While the veterans that get dogs from Riggs benefit greatly from their visits to Granite County, in the end it's the dogs that make the most impact long after they go home. "I mean as soon as you take an eight week old puppy and place it in the arms of a wounded veteran," says Riggs, "they understand it they have to get up the next morning and let the puppy out and care for the puppy and feed the pup. In some cases they may just be laying in bed and not going outside, so in that circumstance there are benefits right from the start."
The K9 Care veteran service dog program specifically deals with veterans who served in wars after September 11th. Riggs works with Bozeman's Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter to train select dogs to help older veterans deal with post traumatic stress. Riggs also provides dogs to families of children with autism.
Riggs is currently expanding the K9 Care Montana headquarters. They'll be right down the road from the V.F.W. in Maxville, making a big difference in a small place.