Nearly twenty years ago Rick Yount, a Licensed Social Worker was transporting an 11 year old boy into foster care. Rick had brought his dog Gabe along for the ride and observed how soothing the canine was to the boy in this most-traumatic situation. A connection was made and Gabe became a Certified Therapy Dog and Rick later became the founder and Executive Director of Warrior Canine Connection.
Why This is Needed
According to the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs between 11-20% of Veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. They also estimate that 30% of Vietnam Vets have had PTSD in their lifetime. Not only are our Vets suffering, but due to the machismo culture they have just left, some won’t admit they need help. Not only is the recipient of the service dog helped, but the vet who trains the dog benefits as well. The Vets train the dog that the world is a safe place thus they must be convinced themselves. Instead of focusing inward on their own trauma, the trainers get outside their head and focus on the dog and their mission to help another Vet. By helping their fellow warriors, they help themselves as well.
A Little Back History
Rick created the first Warrior dog-training program in July 2008 at the Palo Alto VA’s Men’s Trauma Recovery Program in Menlo Park, Ca. It soon became highly respected for providing non-pharmaceutical intervention to help treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).In 2009 Rick established the Warrior dog-training program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Warrior Transition Brigade in Washington, D.C.
In 2010 the program became part of the PTSD and TBI research, treatment and education mission at the new National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at Walter Reed. In 2011, Warrior Canine Connection was founded and expanded to DoD and VA medical facilities throughout the country.
Not Just Any Dog Will Do
Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) dogs must be non-aggressive with sensitive demeanors and eager to please. They must have possess negligible prey-drive and not show any aggression towards people or other animals. Though shelter dogs may make great pets, very few have the qualities to graduate as certified service dog partners for combat veterans with mobility impairments. For this reason WCC has their own breeding program and uses Golden and Labrador retrievers exclusively.
It’s all about Attitude
It takes about two years for a WCC dog to complete its training during which it learns a minimum of 80 commands. Not only to graduate from the WCC program but to meet the standards of Assistance Dog International they must perform tasks on the first command at least 90 percent of the time. They are trained with positive reinforcement methods such as emotional praise and treats. WCC provides top-quality veterinary care and keeps health and veterinary records from the day the puppies enter the program through their entire lives.
How Can We Help?
Warrior Canine Connection is a tax exempt non-profit organization and would appreciate your help. It costs more than $25,000 to breed, feed, care for, train and place each dog. They spend $1,000 for veterinarian care for a puppy just for its training period. There are too many expenses to list here but just $25 buys a service dog vest and a leash. You can make donations or purchase shirts, hats, hoodies and other items at their website.
The most fun way to help is to volunteer. If you’re ever in the Brookeville, Maryland area, you can stop by their Puppy Enrichment Center where they can always use puppy-petters.