What began as a way to soothe his own post-combat anguish has become a national business for a North Florida veteran. He is Jeff Minder, founder and CEO of Madison-based Top Tier K-9.”\
You’ve doubtless heard the phrase, “The Few, the Proud, the Marines.” Jeff Minder’s military unit was even more exclusive than that.
“I joined the military fresh out of high school,” he recalled. “I was selected to be a part of what’s called a ‘SEER’ community, for ‘Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape.' A very unique group of people. They select 33 people out of 1,500 that they interview and work with, and then usually 11 graduate the program.”
Minder said he was no stranger to dangerous deployments and actual combat. Until a career-ending incident.
“I got out with a parachuting accident,” he explained. “I messed up my back and they medically retired me after 11 years in. It was a very hard transition for me from the military – being in combat and especially being in special operations – and then coming out into the real world where others hadn’t necessarily done or seen the things (I had) and with that sense of mission-centric urgency. My life had to change.”
Actually, Minder says he found a new mission. One with four legs and a tail.
“I suffered some pretty severe traumatic brain injury and PTSD and a dog saved my life. It gave me companionship, something to transfer my anger and inability to figure things out, because I wasn’t a normal human being anymore. I was different. And the dog gave me strength and purpose.”
Minder said the eventual death of that dog threw him for a loop. But he was determined to turn that tragedy into triumph for himself and others like him.
“I trained my next service dog on my own and a bunch since then. I have a school that trains other veterans, and non-veterans although it really helps the veterans, how to become dog trainers. Because the veterans have purpose and a team member. And nothing’s worse than losing your service dog and they’re going to die in 10-12 years and some of the veterans with PTSD it puts them in a worse position when the dog dies, so I help them start the replacement dog at 7 years in.”
Thus was founded the firm Minder named Top Tier K9.
“I go in and I’ve got about 100 trainers all over the country that are also now training dogs and trainers,” he related. “Our goal is to empty animal shelters and we used to donate money. But now we’re saying that trained dogs don’t end up in shelters, so if you train that dog and take care of obedience problems, it’s not going to a shelter. If I go to a shelter and train a dog that’s there being rescued, it’s going to get adopted.”
Minder said he developed a dog training method that gives each pup a common foundation that can be easily customized for specific military, police, or therapeutic applications.
“When a police department says it’s ready for a dog, it takes me 8 weeks to get that animal to the police. If a veteran comes in needing a service dog, he has his diabetic alert dog in 8 weeks. The dogs are trained in about 50 different elements that I’m ready to finish, so it greatly reduces the price. An average service dog in America today takes 5 years to train and costs $25,000. They can have mine in 8 weeks for $15,000.”
Still, Minder said his biggest goal is to give vets the entrepreneurial tools they need to be successful in this endeavor and then providing ongoing support.
“We use the social media platforms to help every young entrepreneur – mostly veterans – to grow their homebased business and maybe even expand to a bigger facility. We’re also tying those bricks and mortar into the internet, so it’s not a pure internet play. We are growing bricks and mortar buildings back into the communities, keeping the money there and helping other people with their dogs locally and we take zero for that.”
Minder is doing his own brick and mortar expansion. He’s opening a Tallahassee Top Tier K9 facility. And he’s involved in a Facebook veterans resource that just went online last week.
“They’ve launched a veterans’ hub specific for veterans and they have education, tools for employing veterans and ways for them to find opportunities to learn new things. It gives a new resource and I can’t wait to get heavy into that!”
And to think, it all began with a wounded warrior and his faithful canine companion.