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Local businesses join forces to fund service dog for military veteran

A service dog wearing a U.S. flag vest (via Jeremy Bezanger/Unsplash)

Dogtopia will salute its first year in Falls Church by helping bring comfort to a veteran in need.

After opening its doors on Oct. 14, 2020 despite the challenges of starting a business during the COVID-19 pandemic, the dog daycare has now achieved its goal of raising $6,000 — enough money to help cover the cost of training a service dog for a military veteran.

Dogtopia of Falls Church (108 W Jefferson Street) will officially announce the news tomorrow (Thursday) to coincide with Veterans Day.

“We’re hoping that this announcement will be powerful enough to help us accelerate our intended support of a second dog funded in much less time,” said Jim Hannesschlager, who owns the franchise with his wife Allie.

The fundraising effort was part of the franchise’s work with the nonprofit Dogtopia Foundation, which helps close funding gaps for community partners that focus on three main causes: service dogs for veterans, youth literacy programs, and employment for adults with autism.

To support the first cause, the Dogtopia Foundation is currently partnered with K9s for Warriors, a Florida-based organization that trains and provides service dogs to veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, sexual assault, and other challenges.

K9s for Warriors covers the costs of its training programs, which can run up to $30,000 to $40,000, but as a nonprofit, it relies on donations for at least some of that funding, according to Hannesschlager. The Dogtopia Foundation assists in filling that gap.

Hannesschlager and his wife, who both have family members that have served in the military, started working to raise money for a service dog even before their Dogtopia franchise opened, as he told Tysons Reporter in August 2020.

They found an eager supporter in Idylwood-based Settle Down Easy Brewing, which offered to contribute a portion of its sales from the September leading up to Dogtopia of Falls Church’s debut.

For Settle Down Easy owner Frank Kuhns, helping veterans is a personal mission. His father served during the Vietnam War, and his brother Bryan worked as a bartender at the Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost in Brockway, Pennsylvania.

The brewery’s name is a tribute to Bryan, who died in 2015, just two days shy of his 36th birthday. It comes from a lyric in the Grateful Dead song “Ramble on Rose,” which Bryan played at the bar at the end of every night.

“When Jim approached me asking for support to help raise funds for a service dog, we were honored and so proud of our customers who purchased beer with $1 going to Dogtopia’s Fundraiser,” Kuhns said by email.

Settle Down Easy, which announced expansion plans over the weekend, donated a total of $1,000 at the grand opening of the Falls Church Dogtopia, which matched those funds.

Dogtopia contributed another $1,000 to match the money raised by its customers over the past year, and the Hannesschlagers decided to personally give the remaining $2,000.

The money will go to the Dogtopia Foundation, which will then pass it onto K9s for Warriors.

While the dog and the veteran with whom it will be placed haven’t been identified yet, Hannesschalger says he is excited to receive updates over the next few months. He hopes raising awareness of Dogtopia’s effort will boost its next fundraising campaign for a second service dog.

“[Dogs] can — and many times do — perform an incredible service to people, whether it’s just companionship in the house or it’s all the way up on the other end of the scale being a service dog,” Hannesschalger said. “So, the fact that we can marry that with those who have served and protected our country is extremely important to my wife and I.”

Photo via Jeremy Bezanger/Unsplash

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