If you’ve ever had a dog, you know the little creatures can quickly become part of the family. There are many personal and even health benefits of owning a dog, like improved social skills and reducing allergies and blood pressure. These connections go a step further when the dog isn’t just a pet but a service animal, working to make life easier for its owner.
The Maryland-based Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) works to help wounded warriors reconnect with life, their families, their communities, and each other, with the assistance of a trained service dog at no cost. In its four years of operation, WCC has developed what it calls a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model that has service members train dogs to help other wounded warriors.
“The Mission Based Trauma Recovery model harnesses the healing power of the warrior ethos and the human animal bond to reduce symptoms of combat trauma. WCC enlists service members and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the critical mission of training service dogs for their fellow wounded Warriors with physical disabilities,” said WCC founder and executive director Rick Yount.
WCC dogs receive training for their first 24 to 30 months of life, to eventually help service members with everything from mobility assistance for amputees to emotional support for their families.
“WCC dogs also act as ‘social lubricants’ and facilitate positive interactions between combat veterans and the public. Family relationships also benefit, as the MBTR model has been shown to build good parenting skills,” said Yount.
The 2015 class of WCC trainees recently graduated as service, facility, family support, and therapy dogs during a ceremony in mid-October. In all, 14 dogs graduated and were matched with deserving veterans.
Some 3,000 service members and veterans have participated in WCC programs. Twenty-five service dogs have been placed with veterans living with injuries.
WCC hopes to expand its work, thanks to Maryland officials who approved a 25-year lease on 80 acres of land not far from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, near Germantown, Md. The “Healing Quarters” location will provide the space to expand WCC’s breeding program and it will serve as a site for veterans to learn dog training techniques. The organization’s expansion plans could help more than 48,000 veterans and wounded warriors in the next ten years.
While most dog-lovers seem to just know their dog is improving their life, WCC is now collaborating with scientists at several military research centers and academic institutions to prove it. They’re measuring just how impactful service animals really are at combatting stress. The hope is that the findings from this research will establish the WCC’s MBTR model as an evidence-based treatment for PTS and TBI. In laymen’s terms, the findings will solidify that what WCC is doing really works for wounded warriors.
“It is our hope that this will become a standard of care that becomes widely available,” Yount added.