The connection began with Gabe. Nearly two decades ago, Rick Yount, a licensed social worker, received a Christmas gift from two friends who had served in Operation Desert Storm. The unexpected gift was Gabe, an eight-week-old Golden Retriever puppy. One year later, Rick took Gabe along to transport an 11-year-old-boy from his biological mother into foster care. During this traumatic transition, Rick noticed that Gabe instinctively knew how to comfort the devastated child. A seed was planted. Rick trained Gabe as a Certified Therapy Dog, and Gabe continued to work his magic.
When US troops started coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious physical wounds and mental trauma, Rick was confident that dogs could play a pivotal role in the healing process. In July 2008, Rick started the first dog-training program to help treat returning warriors with symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). This program started in the Palo Alto VA’s Men’s Trauma Recovery Program and by 2011 had evolved into the highly respected Warrior Canine Connection. To date, thousands of service members suffering from symptoms of combat stress have participated.
The mission of Warrior Canine Connection serves four vital missions:
- Provide Service Members and Veterans with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) the opportunity to be part of a critical military-support mission helping fellow Wounded Warriors.
- Offer a safe, effective, and inexpensive non-pharmaceutical therapeutic intervention for the treatment of PTSD.
- Provide highly skilled service dogs that will provide years of mobility and social support to Veterans with disabilities.
- Strengthen the bonds and relieve stress in military families.
The Warrior Canine Connection involves veterans in every step of the process by utilizing a Mission-Based Trauma Recovery model. This evidence-based therapy helps warriors recover from the stress of combat and reconnect with their families, communities, and life. The training of one dog can help as many as 60 warriors recover from the stress of combat. Service members with PTSD learn the skill of training mobility service dogs. They work to socialize newborn puppies, and when pups are one-month old, veterans begin training the dogs until they are adopted at the age of two. The trained dogs are ultimately partnered with fellow veterans with mobility impairments, providing them with companionship and an increased sense of well-being and independence.
Warrior trainers learn to patiently and affectionately build relationships with the dogs. Trainers are responsible for teaching dogs that the world is a safe place, and through this process, are able to convince themselves of the same. By praising the dogs and providing positive reinforcement when they experience an unexpected event, like a loud noise, warrior trainers learn to focus on the mission to help another veteran. Participants have reported that learning these positive reinforcement techniques leads to positive interactions with members of the community and significantly improves their family dynamics as well.
Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) is a non-profit organization that relies on public support to continue serving service members who need help. No gift is too small (or too large!). Please join 4Knines in making a difference in the lives of our warriors and their families. There are many ways to help: make a donation, shop in the WCC store, or become a volunteer. Each month, 4Knines proudly spotlights animal advocacy groups who are doing great things. This month, we are proud to recognize the work of the Warrior Canine Connection and the service members they serve.
Video (Good Morning America Clip):https://youtu.be/X_7ilfgqxQw