As with all graduations, the ceremony held at the Universities of Shady Grove on Saturday morning, marked the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter for ten graduates and ten veterans, as Warrior Canine Connection held it’s a graduation for its fourth class of service dogs.
The Warrior Canine Connection program, which is based in Boyds, is a nonprofit that provides therapy and support for veterans through the training and placement of service dogs, At Saturday’s graduation, the group paired ten dogs with veterans and others who will benefit from their assistance, therapy, and companionship.
Warrior Canine Connection has been working with wounded Warriors in a clinically-based setting to train service dogs for their fellow Veterans since 2011.
“Today you are seeing not just Veterans who will benefit from the assistance of these service dogs, but the culmination of hundreds of Warriors who helped with their training,” said WCC Executive Director Rick Yount. “Today is a celebration of all of the hard work that has gone into training these dogs and the greater independence and overall quality of life that they will bring to their recipients.”
The graduation isn’t an end, rather a new beginning for those who have been paired with their dogs. Retired Staff Sergeant Ryan Garrison of Beavercreek, Ohio, who sustained serious back injuries and post-traumatic stress as a result of a blast while deployed in Iraq, says his service dog Luke has helped transform his life.
“I really can’t say enough about what Warrior Canine Connection and my service dog Luke have done for me,” said Garrison. “Thanks to Luke, my anxiety is under control, I’ve significantly decreased the medication I take, and he’s really helped me with my mobility. It’s not just that, though since being matched with Luke, I have a whole different outlook on life – a positive one.”
Luke, Garrison’s black Labrador Retriever, was trained by Puppy Parent Laurie Higuera of Napa, California. Puppy parents play a crucial role in the program, helping to transport, train and reinforce positive behaviors of the dogs. It takes not only a significant time commitment but also someone with the passion for helping others.
“I am a third-time Puppy Parent who discovered WCC after seeing the live video feed of the WCC puppies online,” said Laurie Higuera, who works with service dog-in-training Cooper at the Menlo Park, California location. “Raising service dogs is exceedingly rewarding. To see the impact these dogs can have on our Veterans is truly amazing.”
Garrison is one of five Veterans who was matched with a service dog at this year’s graduation. An additional two dogs graduated as military support dogs and three as therapy dogs, who will go to provide assistance in university and community settings.
To date, 19 service dogs have been paired with Wounded Warriors, and through the mission-based recovery, more than 3,700 Veterans and Service Members have assisted in the process.
Over the summer, the Warrior Canine Connection moved its headquarters to an old farmhouse on Schaffer Road in Boyds, where the group is in the process of building The Healing Quarters on 80-acres of Maryland State Park land, just 20 miles from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The Healing Quarters will provide WCC with a comprehensive facility where it can fulfill its mission to leverage the human-canine bond to help alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury in wounded warriors.
Top: A veteran hugs the puppy parent from Warrior Canine Connection upon receiving his new companion dog at the Warrior Canine Connection graduation ceremony held at the Universities of Shady Grove on Saturday.
Next: A service dog.
Photos by Jared Lenahan.