Devoted Defenders Project provides protection dogs, firearms training and self-defense coursesMay 29, 2022 01:29PM ● By Peri Kinder
By Peri Kinder | [email protected]
Survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse often live in fear, even if they get a restraining order against the perpetrator. The National Institute of Justice found abusers violate protective orders at least 50% of the time. In fact, one study found more than 10% of homicide victims had a spouse or partner who violated a restraining order.
Herriman resident Andre Valdez understands that fear. As a survivor of domestic violence, he wanted to see real change and support for people going through such an ordeal.
“Domestic violence is an epidemic,” he said. “It’s a hidden epidemic that we talk about all the time but no one does anything about it. I want to do something about it.”
Valdez founded the Devoted Defenders Project, providing services to help survivors feel they can live in peace. The nonprofit takes trained protection dogs and places them with women who want to feel safe in their own homes.
It takes about 8,000 hours of training for each Belgian Malinois or Dutch Shepherd, and not all dogs are selected for home placement. It takes a rare combination of traits for a dog to be assigned as a family protection dog. Devoted Defenders Boardmember Max Dotson said the two-year training process weeds out the dogs who might be too aggressive or anxious.
“The dogs seem to self-select,” Dotson said. “The dogs that are going to homes, you know it pretty quickly. They’re very calm and very smart. Dogs are fun because they’re emotional. You can get almost immediate feedback from them.”
Dogs who aren’t placed in homes are trained to work for agencies, private clients and police or detectives. The sale of dogs to private companies allows Valdez to fund Devoted Defenders, but his goal isn’t to make money.
“This is a serious issue,” Valdez said. “I genuinely do not care if I raise a dime, as long as I raise awareness. Too many people have been affected by domestic violence. This issue has to come to the forefront. It’s destroying the fabric of our society.”
During its first year, the organization placed six dogs with clients across the country. The recipients are carefully selected through an intensive vetting process. The client sends an inquiry email with supporting information, like court documents or restraining orders, and the application is reviewed by an attorney, a psychiatrist and the dog trainers.
Once they pass initial approval, clients are interviewed to see if they can handle a protection dog, because a dog is only as good as its handler.
“Someone going through extreme trauma isn’t a good candidate,” Dotson said. “They don’t have the emotional capability to work with a protection dog. We feel really good about our client placements. We offer monthly training sessions and we’ll be flying out our first cohort of clients, one at a time this year for additional training. And it’s all free.”
Devoted Defenders also offers firearms training and self-defense courses, free of charge, for those who qualify for the program. Valdez’s goal is to set up a network of vetted trainers across the country who can work with survivors of domestic violence or sexual abuse to help them re-establish their power and confidence.
For more information, or to donate to the nonprofit, visit DevotedDefenders.org
“I am a victim of domestic violence myself,” Valdez said. “I know what it’s like to live in a constant state of fear and to have your personal freedom taken away by someone you trusted.”