Monmouth County residents killed in the 9/11 attacks will be remembered Friday night at an event to raise money for providing Wounded Warrior Project service dogs.

Corey, a recently sponsored service dog
Corey, a recently sponsored service dog (Photo credit: Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski Memorial Fund)

The gala event "A Toast to Dennis: A Night of Remembrance" will celebrate the life of Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski, who was killed in combat, as well as honor those from Monmouth County who lost their lives in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks.

Zilinski's mother Marion, co-founder of the memorial fund named after her son, said each service dog costs about $15,000 to sponsor and must undergo six months of training before being matched with a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder -- a value that exceeds the price.

American servicemen and women, many of whom suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries related to their service, are committing suicide at the rate of 22 per day, according to Zilinski.

"These dogs are specifically trained to read the emotions of the wounded warrior," she said. "Many of the warriors come back and they are put onto very powerful, mind-altering drugs, which are very dangerous to a mind that's already been suffering because of a traumatic brain injury, an explosion near them, what they've witnessed, what they've participated in. It affects everybody so differently. This program has been so successful that it has gotten maybe 74 percent of our wounded warriors off these mind-altering drugs either completely, or some of them, they have reduced the medications that they take."

Zilinski said the K-9s involved in the program have themselves been rescued from animal shelters, and in some cases have been spared from being euthanized.

"It's a win-win situation, and when you see the comfort zone that these soldiers get from a dog, it's amazing," Zilinski said. "To save their lives is just so important. I don't want another mother to wear the shoes that I wear."

K-9s for Warriors trains the dogs in Florida. Once they graduate and are certified under the American Disabilities Act, the dogs are matched with soldiers. The soldier must live with the dog for three weeks at the Florida facility to make sure the two are compatible by practicing being out in public, including doing such things as eating at restaurants.

The Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski Memorial Fund has sponsored 17 service dogs over the past three years.

Lt. Zilinski died Nov. 19, 2005, in Iraq, as a result of injuries suffered in a roadside bombing near Beji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

Friday's gala, at the Eagle Oaks Golf & Country Club in Farmingdale, will feature a reverse auction to raise additional funds for future service dogs. Anyone who wants to outright sponsor a service dog gets to choose the K-9's name.

Donations can be sent to: Lt. Dennis W. Zilinski Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 35, Holmdel, NJ, 07733.