How did the arrival of a boisterous German Shepherd Dog with hip dysplasia end up in a 200km Ultra Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge to raise money for Hero Paws and help the ex service dogs they look after?

This blog by Sara Kernohan, cofounder of CAM4animals, looks at the immense problems ex service dogs can face when they get to the end of their working life through the experienced eyes of the charity Hero Paws.

These dogs are heroes. Many have saved lives or kept us safe. They need a secure and safe life on civvy street.

It also highlights how German Shepherd Kane, who arrived in his new home in pain and a bit bewildered, was transformed by integrative vet care and able to step up to a huge walking challenge.

Kane arrives

Kane hopped out of the car and brushed past me into the house. My first time seeing him and I could already see that his back was ‘up’ and he moved on 3 tracks (ie a bit wonky).  My son and his partner had adopted a German Shepherd Dog from a security dog training centre, where he’d almost completed training but been considered unsuitable. 

Somewhat anxious about this very big boy with large teeth and training in security, I calmly gave him space to explore our house and get to know my elderly collie dog. It wasn’t long, security dog or not, before he was trying to climb on my lap for granny cuddles!

Shall we go for a walk?

Acquiring this big fella and learning what we now know about rescuing ex-service dogs resulted in my son Pat preparing to speed-march 200km across Wales and climb three mountains on route, Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen-Y-Fan. Peaks for Paws was born!

This is in the “ultra-marathon” category with brass knobs on.  Most people doing the Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge drive between the mountains. Pat will do it non-stop on foot with a few hours sleep in the middle. Kane will do the sections he is able to do depending upon weather conditions and how he is coping. His well-being is paramount – my son can take care of himself! He is, by the way, a soldier serving at Stonehouse Barracks in Plymouth. As a physical training instructor, Pat is fit and ready to meet the challenge which they plan to undertake on 22nd to 24th March 2023.

You can donate here. ALL the money raised will go to Hero Paws who will spend ALL of it on the ex service dogs they are helping to rehabilitate and rehome.

Hero Paws is a registered charity that supports all services that employ working dogs, from Military and Police to civilian sectors such as HMPS, Security, Conservation and Search roles. They are the only charity helping military working dogs, MWDs.

The route

Read on to find out more about:

  • The life and prospects of service dogs once they finish the job they are trained to do
  • Kane’s transformation into a super fit and healthy dog with the help of holistic treatments and good nutrition
  • How you can help Hero Paws rehome and rehabilitate more dogs and give them the opportunity of a normal and happy life on civvy street

Helping ex service dogs ~ Hero Paws

The driving factor in the Peaks for Paws challenge is to raise funds for Hero Paws. They are a five year old charity supporting all services that employ working dogs, from Military and Police to civilian sectors such as HMPS, Security, Conservation and Search roles. Set up by three ex-Military Dog Handlers who have also rehomed Military Working Dogs, they know first hand what is required to successfully turn these soldier dogs into pets.

They offer an unbiased process that aids all dogs to retire whether that be from failed training, being unable to meet their current training standards or they have come to the end of their service. Hero Paws helps bridge the gap from service to general population, to search for and rehome the dogs to the perfect home. They offer continued support and guidance to make sure these dogs live out the retirement they deserve.

What happens when a service dog retires?

Many people are unaware that retired service dogs do not receive financial support in their retirement from the force they served with, meaning the responsibility for their care and vet bills falls solely to their ex-handler or new owner. Sometimes unable to get pet insurance (or it’s prohibitively expensive) due to their working life, many are left with ongoing vet bills which can amount to thousands.

What’s in store now?

Hero Paws provides much needed financial support to these unsung dog heroes and their owners to enable them to have a long and happy retirement. To give you an idea of costs, re-homing just one ex-military dog costs Hero Paws more than £550 each and doesn’t include the very many hours of volunteer time from the Founders of Hero Paws, their volunteers and even the nutritionist who gives her time for free too. Virtually all the money raised for Hero Paws simply goes to the dogs!

Specific challenges

Rehabilitating and re-homing service dogs is not like a civilian rescue centre operation.  These dogs come with very particular challenges and many need on-going vet care as a result of their duties – that £550+ doesn’t include vet and physio expenses. My chats with Hero Paws made it clear how dedicated this team is to their dogs.

A Hero Paws founder told me: 

“The most important thing to us is the dogs. We put our military careers on the line to speak for them and would over and over again. Who we were in the days of Afghan is down to our dogs. They do their jobs with no question and for that entity at the end of their lead, we can at least give them the opportunity to see outside the kennels.”

Hero Paws founder

Lost puppyhood

Half the problem with rescues and ex-service dogs is they often miss the fundamentals of being a puppy. In the case of service dogs, the basics are skipped, there’s no puppy training, no nurture and often just work. Their environment can be small and the world is weird and scary outside of work.

Behavioural help is essential

The challenges for their dog behaviourist are considerable. Some dogs who have not had the right transition from their job to civilian life have a warped view of the human world.  When people take them into their homes they often have a 40kg, big toothed dog in the mind of a puppy and one which already has embedded negative learned behaviour. The need to train, trust and nurture is massive but the folk at Hero Paws do this slowly and steadily with complete positivity. The dogs need time to decompress and learn about ordinary everyday things. Some will take longer than others.

Learning to trust

We were lucky with Kane, but we NEVER took his good nature for granted. He never made it into security work but he was trained almost fully so those ‘skills’ were already there. He isn’t a Hero Paws dog, but dogs like him who don’t complete their training or are unable to cope with their work for whatever reason would also be retrained by them. To ensure the very best start for Kane, Pat and Suzie had a two hour appointment with Morag Sutherland of Gelert Behaviour who:

  • Re-enforced the need for clear boundaries
  • Showed them how to identify potential behaviour triggers
  • Helped them begin to manage some of the negative behaviours he was already showing
  • Identified what they should plan ahead for

Over the first few weeks Morag helped to steer Suzie and Pat so that Kane felt safe, confident and happy.  He had no idea how to play so when he met my 12-week-old Border Collie puppy for the first time, he didn’t have a clue what to do with her.

Have you met my new friend?

Kane meets the new puppy!

In time, Kane and the pup have learned how to be together but one thing we always ensure is that they both have a safe space to escape to and we always manage any potential triggers for trouble! Morag’s tips have helped nip any potential problems in the bud.

Other considerations: holistic vet care

Morag put Suzie in touch with Moddie Lambert at Simply Raw Feeding because although Kane’s diet had been raw, it comprised only chicken carcasses. We knew that he needed to have new proteins introduced along with organ meats, fruit and veg as part of a comprehensive and fresh species appropriate diet.  Meanwhile, Kane was diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia, so they were back on the phone to Moddie to seek guidance on how to feed for joint health.

Species appropriate breakfast tailored for Kanes’s needs

Hip dysplasia ~ bring on the acupuncture, Galen myotherapy & Photizo

Service dogs are usually screened for HD, however, Kane slipped through because of Covid movement restrictions.  It was this that made him look hunched and crooked. As luck would have it, my Collie was having acupuncture when Kane visited. Our acupuncture vet, Lindsay Brazil, checked Kane over and ended up giving him an acupuncture session too. She was also concerned about his appearance and his clear discomfort around tight shoulders and very weak hind quarters. They discussed possibly scanning him.

While Pat waited for Kane to see his own vet, Lindsay recommended asking Helen Cherry, my local Galen Myotherapist, to treat him to ease some of his discomfort.  Helen worked on him and agreed that he needed a scan around his hips asap.  Helen also referred Kane on to a Galen Myotherapist closer to Pat and Suzie’s home which is how Jen Moxham at Healthy Hound Therapy took him on.  Jen taught Suzie physio techniques to use at home and where to use a Photizo.  So between his home physio programme, changes in his exercise and the introduction of an excellent raw diet, Kane transformed.

Kane having Galen Myotherapy on his Pickpocket Foragers blanket

Long walk you say? Bring it on!

It’s thanks to this amazing support team and the devotion of Suzie and Pat that Kane is seriously looking at clocking some of that 200km under his paws. I should also add that, being a homeopath myself, Kane did not miss out. Right from the start he was on remedies for the stress of change and also Tissue Salts to help with joints and development.

Ready and waiting to help other ex service dogs

How does Hero Paws help ex service dogs?

Seeing how much went into Kane, you can picture what Hero Paws are facing with the dogs they aim to rehome.  Where do they get the funds from if the original service has no financial obligation to pay for supporting these dogs?  Mainly donations is the answer.

The Hero Paws founders all work as volunteers so ALL the donations currently go towards the dogs’ welfare including:

  • Kit, for example a bespoke harness where needed can cost £150 and a lead £25
  • Senior Kongs (customised for an ageing dog’s chewing and play needs)
  • Treats
  • Nutrition is of course vital and that  includes supplements plus the time of a nutritionist – who currently donates her time
  • Training and behaviour work
  • Veterinary care (ongoing and one-off treatments) which can be as much as £2000
  • Insurance, that Hero Paws pays for initially, which is £500

Then there’s support for new families via a 24/7 WhatsApp group which is volunteer run.  You can tell that a £10 donation will be gone in a woof! 

CAM4animals supporters will be pleased to hear that some of the dogs have hydrotherapy and also physio and laser treatment. This is an area they would like to explore further but it’s just a financial pressure too far at the moment. You can tell from their shop that they are of like-minds regarding as natural an approach as possible.

Hero Paws would love to access more CAM treatments and see results like this

Hero Paws do the majority of the work themselves ie the running of the day to day admin and assessing and organising future prospective dogs. They have two additional regular helpers who do the shows with them but as they expand, and once they have a proper facility, they will expand their volunteer project.


Let’s talk about that ‘proper facility’. Hero Paws urgently need some kind of sanctuary for the dogs. At present they work with homes or small rooms within a kennel. Ideally, they’d like a purpose-built place, but that would cost £millions. To realistically be in a position to move dogs in quickly, they need their own kennels or a building of some form. They particularly need some kennels for quarantine and for those dogs who may need a little more transition time. Hero Paws are currently looking at land and a build of around £750k – but as outlined above, everything that comes in currently goes on supporting the dogs. Raising this amount of money therefore requires funding from grants, which they are now working on.

If it wasn’t for these dogs…

Having highlighted some of the difficulties of re-homing these dogs, let me leave you with the words from a post from Hero Paws that may help you understand why we owe it to these dogs to re-home them:

“Some people have gone on to have families, or explore the world, have a conversation with family and friends, or simply just sit and chill on the couch, because a Military Working Dog found a device, alerted their handler to enemy presence, bit and held an insurgent, or found a large weapons cache/bomb making factory.

Hero Paws

“Everyone on that patrol is thankful to have them with them, and every indication from the dog is a life saved, a soldier returning home to their family and a life that can go on to achieve wonderful things.”

Hero Paws

They deserve the chance to have a normal life

Pat and the Peaks For Paws team strongly feel that ex-service dogs deserve an opportunity for a new life outside of service or the chance of a restful retirement. If Hero Paws has found a way into your hearts, please support Pat and Kane on their challenge from the 22nd to 24th March.  As an added bonus, anyone who donates will automatically go into a draw to win a £50 gift voucher for anything on the Pickpocket Foragers website. You’ll see Kane sitting on his foraging mat while having a Galen treatment above.

Donate here to Pat and Kane’s Challenge for Hero Paws

Useful links

Donate to Pat and Kanes’ Peaks for Paws, the Welsh 3 Peaks Challenge to raise money for Hero Paws

Follow Peaks For Paws on Facebook and Instagram

Visit Hero Paws and buy Dorwest Herbs, toys and healthy treats from their shop

Photizo blogs

Follow Hero Paws on Facebook and Instagram

Hero Paws are one of the charities supported by Vets 4Vets – see their blog

Galen Myotherapy blogs

Acupuncture blogs

Raw feeding blogs

Gelert Behaviour

Simply Raw Feeding 

Lindsay Brazil at Cotswold Veterinary Acupuncture

Healthy Hound Therapy

Pickpocket Foragers – check out their website and see what you could buy if you win their £50 voucher in the Peak for Paws prize draw for those who donate to the challenge

Sara Kernohan

Sara is a Co-Founder of CAM4animals. As a homeopath, aromatherapist and counsellor, she has been involved with holistic health for humans for nearly 40 years (which frankly shocks her!). With many years’ experience with horses and having grown up with dogs and cats, Sara naturally ended up using all forms of CAM with her animals. Her children are grown up, so her attentions are now taken up with her two collie dogs and fabulously fluffy cat.

Sara is also a member of the team at Whole Health Agriculture which educates and supports farmers in finding alternative approaches to livestock health.

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

This blog may also contain an element of consumer opinionWhilst CAM4animals welcomes positive recommendations for holistic healthcare products, we don’t necessarily endorse the product or the author’s opinion. We acknowledge that each animal is an individual and may react differently to the highlighted product/s. There may also be other products available that produce similarly positive results.

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website