Begins Connecting Vets with K-9s
Written by Dulcy B. Hooper
Photos by Jennifer Gray
The founder and CEO of Lost Mountain Group, Andrew (Andy) Keahon, is on a mission to help struggling veterans throughout the Mid-Atlantic region by pairing them with retired military working dogs. “We just paired our 30th canine companion,” Keahon said, “and the way I look at it, we save two lives with each pairing: we rescue the dog, and the dog rescues the veteran.”
Lost Mountain Group (LMG) was founded by Keahon in 2016 with a mission to rehabilitate retired military working dogs and place them with veterans in need of a companion. “At the heart of it all, it’s all about improving the quality of a veteran’s life,” Keahon said. “And that means that there is no cost to the vets.” LMG will even cover medical costs for the remainder of a dog’s life to avoid passing those expenses on to a veteran.
Keahon is uniquely qualified to take on such a calling. Over the course of his more than 25-year career in law enforcement, he served as commander of the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s K-9 and Bomb Squad where he quadrupled the size of the K-9 unit, he was a program manager for a top-tier military K-9 organization specializing in homemade explosives (HMEs) for pre-deployment training of military K-9 units across the country, and he trained to become an FBI-certified bomb technician and K-9 trainer. His knowledge and expertise are such that he was called to the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
“At the heart of it all, it’s all about improving the quality of a veteran’s life.” At the heart of it all, it’s all about improving the quality of a veteran’s life.”–Keahon
Additionally, Keahon teaches for the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, provides first responder training for a government contractor, and travels frequently to military bases and government agency offices for onsite training programs.
Lost Mountain Group’s K-9 facilities are located onsite at Keahon’s 25-acre farm in Delaplane, Virginia, where up to ten K-9s can be housed while they are vetted, trained, and socialized prior to placement with veterans, a process that can take several months. “We don’t just say we have a dog that needs to be placed,” Keahon said. “It has to be an appropriate fit for both the dog and the veteran.” Many of LMG’s dogs come from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, described by Keahon as “the largest kennel for military dogs in the country.” Lackland is where service dogs for the military and TSA are stationed, as well as where dogs are housed who are unable to complete their service.
LMG’s rescues often accompany Keahon to work as he spends “as long as it takes” to break each dog from a “working dog” mentality to a new life as a companion dog. The training and socialization includes exposing the dogs to new environments and social settings and introducing them to other types of animals, civilians, and children. “Once the dog is fully rehabilitated, vetted, trained, and socialized, that’s when we begin accepting applications. From there we schedule home inspections and a veteran is selected,” Keahon said. After placement, the group continues to follow up on the dogs and veterans every six months.
In 2015, Keahon was asked to help a top tier military K-9 unit improve the performance of their dogs in detecting explosives, primarily HMEs. “HMEs are different around the world,” Keahon said. “Think shoe bomber, Oklahoma City, first World Trade Center.” Keahon was told where his first group of students would be going and he designed a redeployment training program for them to use specifically with their dogs.
One of Keahon’s first students was shot in the head by a sniper. Not expected to live, he was flown to Europe, along with his family. “But he fights and gets back to the country,” Keahon said. “He needed more treatment and surgeries. He had to learn how to do everything again − walk, talk. Everything.”
The wife of Keahon’s student called with a request: could Keahon try to get his K-9 partner retired to him to become his rehab partner? “Unfortunately, that partner had already been deployed with another handler, so they got me a yellow female single-purpose explosive detection lab named Gypsy,” Keahon said. “His wife called me regularly and told me what a life-changing difference Gypsy made. That dog stayed in his room − at his side − for 13 months.”
This experience became the catalyst for Lost Mountain Group. “Slowly but surely, I started getting calls from organizations and units and spouses and everyone asking for help getting a veteran in need a buddy.” Keahon says that the work done by Lost Mountain Group “is something I never imagined and something I don’t deserve. I’m very lucky to have fallen into this. It’s all about the puppies and the vets.”
This is Andy Keahon’s request of Middleburg Life readers and the local community: “If you know of a veteran who needs help, send them our way. Refer them to us. There are dozens of suicides every day. There are veterans who are suffering and need help, and we want to be there for them.”
Lost Mountain Group is a registered nonprofit in the Commonwealth of Virginia and is recognized by the IRS as a public charity 501(c)3 organization. Contributions to support LMG’s work are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law. ML
This article first appeared in the December 2021 Issue.