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Rick Kaucher (MBA 2020) with his dog Gunnar

Executive MBA alumnus works with Veteran’s Puppy for Life for Social Good Challenge

Rick Kaucher (MBA 2020) knows firsthand the power of puppies. Within months of returning from his service in Iraq as a U.S. Marine in 2008, he rescued Gunnar, a 2-month-old pit bull/vizsla mix.

And Gunnar rescued Kaucher.

“Gunnar became a huge part of my transitional process,” Kaucher said. “He gave me something to be responsible for other than just myself.”

Kaucher said anytime he felt bad, Gunnar was there. And he still is. The two have spent 11 faithful years by each other’s side.

Fast forward to 2018. Kaucher was learning about the Social Good Challenge, the program that pairs Daniels’ Executive MBA students with area nonprofits. The list was alphabetical and his eyes scanned the options but nothing was grabbing his attention—until he saw the last one at the very bottom. And that was the one that quickly made the top of his list: Veteran’s Puppy for Life (VPFL), a Denver-based nonprofit that places service puppies with vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) free of charge.

“The name said enough for me,” Kaucher said. “Veterans and dogs are two of my favorite things to help.”

Kaucher wasted no time researching VPFL and the more he learned the more he liked it. He especially appreciated how VPFL built bonds between the dogs and vets.  

Puppies are just 8 weeks old when they meet their veteran and they spend eight months together in what’s called relationship bond training. Essentially, the dog learns how to alert its owner when it senses the owner is feeling out of control to prevent a PTSD episode.

“The problem is lack of awareness,” Kaucher said. “Some veterans don’t know they’re in it until they’re in it [and] by then things are already flying off the tracks and de-escalation is a distant memory. The simple act of awareness, early and often, is the biggest weapon anyone can have at stopping the next domino from falling. Dogs create early awareness to prevent PTSD episodes.”

Veteran’s Puppy for Life is a Denver-based nonprofit that places service puppies with vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder free of charge

This only deepened Kaucher’s desire to help. He recruited two classmates (Craig Freeman and Adam Boryeance) and the three met with Frank Griggs, a Vietnam vet who founded VPFL in 2015. Griggs told them he wanted to expand to Colorado Springs—a move that made sense because it’s next door to Fort Carson, a U.S. military installation. 

Kaucher and crew developed a plan, found a location, remodeled it and then coordinated VPFL’s opening there in early June.

Griggs is beyond grateful. In addition to the expansion, Griggs said the students helped VPFL reach more donors and supporters. 

Kaucher, who graduated in August 2020 with cohort 73, said the best part was when Griggs asked him to join his board of directors.

“To know that he valued my guidance and input enough to include me in decision making at a board level was very humbling,” Kaucher said. “VPFL changes lives. I’ve met and worked with the graduates and I’ve seen the results. Now I get the opportunity to help increase awareness for VPFL and further the mission.” 

Jan Drobnick, EMBA program director, said VPFL had been on the Social Good Challenge list for a few years but had never been chosen. It appears that will change. Kaucher said this fall he heard from six students in EMBA cohort 74, mostly vets, who want to pick up where Kaucher and his team left off and continue helping VPFL even more.

“I’m hoping to make this a reoccurring theme for EMBA cohorts and anyone else who wants to give back to such an amazing cause,” Kaucher said. 

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.

Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.