Seven Lakes West resident Jay Crafter was born and raised in Zimbabwe, Africa. At seventeen, he decided to join the British army where he trained and worked for a total of eight years. It was here that he found his passion as a dog handler.
“I fell in love with the dogs,” he said. “I never knew you could get a dog to do so much.”
After coming to the United States in 2006 to give military training, Crafter had the idea of opening his own business in which he would train dog handlers. Five years later, it came to fruition.
Invictus K9 has been operating for the past three years. It is led by Crafter and his right-hand man, Mike Hensman, who lives in Africa.
The name “Invictus” came from a poem written by William Earnest Henley and means “undefeated.” The logo is a red paw print that is an allusion to an event that took place in Ireland.
According to Crafter, there was once a riot in Northern Ireland that could not be contained. Officials were able to bring in trained dogs, and finally the streets were cleared.
Today, Invictus K9 currently has two contracts in the U.S., working with homeland security, law enforcement, and protection against terrorism. All of the work involves canines.
While Crafter does work partially in the United States, a good portion of his time is spent overseas at the conservations in Africa. He will spend months without wifi, eating from a campfire and sleeping in a tent.
Invictus K9 currently serves several countries in Africa including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Crafter works in Zimbabwe training Africans to be dog handlers and track poachers in the conservation. Because these individuals come from a different culture, Crafter must use different methods of training than he does in the states.
“I have experience with modern military training,” he explained. “Then I come from Africa, so I understand the culture, terrain, threats… My granddad and uncle were wardens of various national parks.”
According to Crafter, some of the African countries he works with have about a 90% unemployment rate. Dogs are not treated as pets, but as tools to protect the home and belongings. Dogs typically have to survive on their own and are easily replaceable.
“Training African handlers is one of the hardest things for western people. They don’t understand the cultural difference,” Crafter said. “[The Africans] are terrified of dogs and not used to seeing pointy-eared dogs.”
During a twelve-week course, the trainees learn to trust the dogs and work with them. They must prepare to track poachers for great distances, so they take their dogs for 10 kilometer runs during training.
“By the end it’s hugely rewarding for us,” Crafter said. “Over there they’re getting paid $150 per month; they’re away from home for months. It’s a trade they can use afterwards. They get a job, get income, and then can support six to seven people with it.”
By providing handler training, Invictus K9 is providing an opportunity for Africans to work. This keeps them away poaching in addition to educating them on grooming and cleaning animals.
“They take that [information] home and apply it to animals at home,” Crafter said. “They have a higher yield from livestock than before… Handlers talk to [their villages] about the consequences of poaching.”
Crafter has helped to train about 45 African handlers through Invictus K9. Over the last year, they have found half of a ton of bush meat that poachers would have tried to sell in markets.
Poachers go after ivory, rhino horn, pangolin, bush meat, weapons, and ammunition. They have even gone as far as to poison waterholes in the conservation.
According to Crafter, elephants and rhinos may be completely extinct around the world within 10 years. With their success in targeting poachers, perhaps that number will change.
“We do regular patrols and target water areas,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of successes.”
The success is not just because of the handlers, but also because of the dogs. Crafter ensures that the dogs he works with are trained properly. Most of these dogs come from Holland.
“You can’t just take any dog and do it. They have to have a good general background and good training,” he said.
The most rewarding part of Crafter’s job is seeing these men from third-world countries become skilled dog handlers.
“Just seeing them turn into dog handlers – they’re like warriors,” he said.
Crafter has also started a non-profit organization that is called Invictus Rising. This organization is conservation focused but will help with canine sterilization programs
in villages as well as help care for other animals and expand into educating schools about poaching.
To get in contact with Jay Crafter, email firstname.lastname@example.org.