SAVING LIVES A LICK AT A TIME: Furry Companions Changing Wounded Warriors’ Lives


Can a furry, four-legged creature really help save a life? Many wounded warriors and their spouses say, “yes.”

It’s in part thanks to the Warrior Canine Connection. The pioneering program enlists recovering wounded service members to train service dogs for fellow wounded members.

Rick Yount, a social worker of nearly 30 years, came up with the concept.

Yount jokes that 19 years ago, a golden retriever trained him — and taught him the value of dog therapy. He realized many wounded warriors were in desperate need of the love and help provided by service dogs and thought the training could be used as an intervention, helping wounded warriors train the dogs at the same time.

“Who else would take the responsibility of training a service dog for a veteran more seriously, and more to heart, than a fellow veteran or warrior?” he asks.

The Training

WTOP caught up with trainers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last spring.

That’s where we met three energetic puppies and the wounded warriors helping train them to become full-service mobility dogs.

Black Labrador retriever brothers Sam and Indy were 16 months old then, and Penny, a golden retriever, was just 10 months old — the “baby” of the group.

Over a two-year period, the dogs had to master 60 skills and tasks and meet other strict temperament and health requirements. A dog that’s overly aggressive or anxious or tends to bark wouldn’t make the cut.

Not every dog makes it, but Sam, Indy and Penny prevailed.

Graduation Day

With a lot of military-style pomp and circumstance, Sam, Indy and Penny, along with three other dogs, graduated on Oct. 25, becoming full-service mobility dogs. Their tails wagged as they crossed the stage, but as usual, all three kept their composure.

It was an emotional ceremony as the dogs transitioned from the “puppy parents” who’ve looked after them since birth to their new forever homes.

It’s a bittersweet goodbye for many families, but an emotional and satisfying transition.

The dogs have been paired with wounded service members who applied to the program and were left with physical and mental wounds from war.
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