Paying homage to the World War II organization formed by civilians in 1942 to support the US war efforts, this modern Dogs for Defense, formed in 2007 by Dan and Kristin Hughes, continues to follow that tradition of civilians supporting the US Military, State and Local governments with superior working dog solutions.
The story begins on June 3, 2000 when Dan Hughes and Kristin Hayes were married. The young couple skipped their honeymoon and moved to an apartment in Secaucus, New Jersey. Dan was working as a Special Agent in the New York Field Office of the U.S. Secret Service and Kristin was teaching at an elementary school in Little Ferry, New Jersey. But apartment living wasn’t for this couple. They dreamed of a big yard where a dog would have room to play. They began looking to buy a home, and eventually found a pink colored house, but it had a huge 50 x 150 foot yard in the quaint town of Rutherford, New Jersey.
About 1 year later, in early July of 2001, the story comes full circle. Dan and Kristin began looking for a puppy to play in that large backyard. They found a litter of German Shepherd Dogs bred by Beth Bradley, a world-renowned Schutzhund trainer and competitor. Dan valued the dogs’ lineage and breeding, but what instantly sold Kristin was the litter’s birthdate, June 3, 2001 (Dan and Kristin’s 1st Wedding Anniversary). Six weeks later they took a GSD pup home. They chose a dark sable colored, female puppy. At that age she could easily be mistaken as a coyote pup. Dan and Kristin had spent weeks thinking of a name for their new addition, prior to bringing her home, spending hours at the bookstore looking at books with an Old West theme and about cowgirls (only appropriate since they first met in North Dakota). The name that stood out to them was Annie Oakley. Dan and Kristin named their little “Sure Shot”, Oakley. As Oakley matured, she was a dynamo, fearless, with tons of energy, not your ordinary pet.
A couple of months later things changed drastically for the Hughes Family. On September 11, 2001, Dan was driving down the Westside Highway just about to enter the USSS office parking garage under the World Trade Center when the first terrorist-controlled plane crashed into North Tower. Dan immediately began setting up an on-site triage area for the injured. He then witnessed the second plane crash into the South Tower and was caught up in the debris and smoke as the Tower collapsed. After recovering some medical equipment from the triage area, Dan made his way to the water’s edge where he began to walk North. Then the North Tower collapse forced Dan to run from the growing cloud of dust. It wasn’t until late in the day when Dan finally made it home to Kristin and Oakley in Rutherford. Dan would be awarded the US Secret Service Medal of Valor for his actions on that day. September 11, 2001 set off a series of events that would forever change the lives of Dan and Kristin Hughes, and Oakley’s too.
Fast forward about year later. Dan had been moved the Technical Operations Squad (TOS) of the USSS New York Field Office. The TOS squad is a spur of the Technical Security Division (TSD) of the USSS. Dan would receive an extraordinary amount of additional training and eventually be qualified as a TSD Advance Agent. In that position, Dan would often coordinate and supervise the explosive detection canine sweeps for the President, Vice President, major Heads of State and National Special Security Events (NSSE). One thing that kept drawing Dan’s attention was that there was a major K-9 shortage. The security posture around the world had changed since September 11, and it was getting more and more difficult to obtain the K-9 teams required to perform pre-event security sweeps.
Dan had the brilliant idea to train Oakley to be an explosive detection dog, she demonstrated all the characteristics required to become a working dog. Most agreed that it was a great idea and a proposal for Dan and Oakley to attend training was quickly approved by the New York Field Office, USSS. However, at the conclusion of their training the USSS Headquarters learned of the program and crushed it. They explained that a Special Agent, 1811 Criminal Investigator, was not the right job series to handle a K-9 and that was only to be done by the Uniformed Division of the USSS. Needless to say, this was devastating for Dan and Kristin. They had all found their passion and purpose. Dan spent the next year battling the bureaucracy, trying to get the program approved and seeing more and more instances where the NYFO explosive detection dog would have been useful. There was to be no change in policy, so that left Dan, Kristin and Oakley with some difficult decisions to make.
Finally, July 19, 2004, the decision was made. Dan would leave the USSS and find a way to get back to working with K-9 Oakley. One way was to start a private business, and the other was to find a Police Department that could use a good K-9 Team. Dan and Kristin moved back to where they met, Bismarck, North Dakota, and Dan and Oakley began working for the Bismarck Police Department. This career change came at an enormous cost, Dan made about a quarter of his pay from the USSS. This loss of pay made it mandatory that Dan and Kristin figure out a business to supplement their growing family. Dogs for Defense was born.
January 7, 2007 is when Dogs for Defense became official. The name was chosen to pay homage to the incredible work done by civilians during WWII in developing the Military Working Dog program. In 2007, the Iraq war was in full swing with countless American soldiers being injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Dan believed with his extensive training and Oakley’s abilities they could make a difference in Iraq. Just as they were preparing to deploy for Dogs for Defense’s first subcontract in Basrah, Iraq, K-9 Oakley was diagnosed with Lumbosacral Disease that led to the chronic crumbling of her spine. This was heartbreaking for everyone.
Dan would deploy to Iraq without Oakley, and then later to Afghanistan. During this period is when Dogs for Defense began to really take shape. Kristin would handle the business at home, cutting through red tape, obtaining licenses, and growing the domestic business, while Dan would spend most of his time working overseas with explosive detection K-9s. Dan was partnered with K-9 Adak in Afghanistan in 2007. In 2017 K-9 Adak would be named USA Today’s #1 Most Heroic Dog on its list of Top 25 Most Heroic Dogs. K-9 Adak was the winner of the American Humane, Hero Dog award in the military category and the Minnesota Veterinarian Medical Association, Hero Dog Award.
It was the goal of the company to really capture the essence of the World War II Dogs for Defense organization, and it felt like they had hit a home run when the first prime contract came from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in Front Royal, Virginia. Front Royal was the primary training center for the WWII K-9 Corps and home base to original Dogs for Defense. Even more remarkable was this contract was also providing pre-deployment K-9 training to all branches of the US Military. It began to feel as if Dan and Kristin had created a company that was walking in the footsteps of the WWII Dogs for Defense. It was solidified even more when the next domestic prime contract won was providing K-9 detection services to the US Army. To top off the WWII Dogs for Defense journey, in 2019 K-9 Bdak was asked to play a US Marine Corps war dog as an extra in the short film, Walking Point. The story of a WWII Dogs for Defense trainer, a young Marine and his K-9 Duke.
April 2010, Dogs for Defense relocated its headquarters from rural North Dakota to Saint Cloud, Minnesota. The purpose was twofold: (1) to be closer to a major metropolitan area, and (2), more importantly, to be closer to family. Dan and Kristin continued expanding their family. By 2014 they had the 5 children they had always planned and were blessed to be living near family in the Minneapolis area.
Today, Dogs for Defense strives to provide the best working dog solutions around the world.
Dogs for Defense Inc. is a closely held corporation with strong Christian values. Luke 10:25-37
Dogs for Defense Inc. is an economically disadvantaged women owned small business, registered S-Corporation in the great State of North Dakota and is headquartered in Saint Cloud, MN.
Dogs for Defense is not a “security company”. Dogs for Defense does not detain individuals, conduct investigations or provide apprehension capabilities.
Dogs for Defense: Purpose for Everything