It’s not every day that someone gets to tell their story to the United States Congress and not every story moves Congress to act. But Rick Yount knew these weren’t ordinary stories. These were stories told by U.S. veterans about how their lives had been changed, indeed saved, by dogs from a group called Warrior Canine Connection, the veterans’ training model Rick developed and piloted in 2008 and the organization he formally founded in 2011, taking on the role of executive director.
Following the powerful testimonies from the veterans in Rick’s program, lawmakers asked Rick and a Veterans Affairs staff member to help draft what would become the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, which President Biden signed into law in August. Under this law, the Department of Veterans Affairs will, in January 2022, launch a $10 million, five-year pilot program that provides service-dog training to benefit veterans diagnosed with PTSD, expanding Rick’s training model to five VA hospitals. Simply put, Warrior Canine Connection trains service dogs to assist veterans suffering from PTSD. But really, the program is so much more because every dog and every veteran have a story.
Simply put, Warrior Canine Connection trains service dogs to assist veterans suffering from PTSD. But really, the program is so much more because every dog and every veteran have a story.
A Marine suffering from PTSD remained completely shut down and wouldn’t speak to anyone at his inpatient treatment facility. As part of the treatment team, Rick arrived with a dog and arranged to seat himself next to this Marine. Rick pretended not to notice as the dog nudged the Marine who looked annoyed and turned away. When the dog approached the Marine again, the Marine looked at Rick as if to say, “can you do something with your dog?” When the dog put his front paws on the Marine’s leg and gave the Marine a kiss, finally, the Marine’s scowl softened.
When the dog approached the Marine again, the Marine looked at Rick as if to say, “can you do something with your dog?” When the dog put his front paws on the Marine’s leg and gave the Marine a kiss, finally, the Marine’s scowl softened.
Rick explained that the dogs were at the facility because they needed training, and he asked the Marine if he might consider helping to train the dogs. Without saying a word, the Marine took the dog-trainer application that Rick offered.
The Marine returned his completed application and entered Rick’s program.
The task was to get him to challenge his own intrusive thoughts in real time by having him teach a puppy that the world is safe, humans can be trusted and that everything is going to be ok.
The Marine finished the program. That dog didn’t quite make it as a service dog but Rick presented the dog as a pet to the Marine, who said the dog had saved his life. The Marine got his masters in social work and continues to help other veterans.
Rick half-jokingly refers to his program as “under-cover social work” because Rick doesn’t tell veterans that the program will help them. Instead, they focus on doing for others and taking care of other vets. By the time a dog is socialized, raised and trained (usually by age two), it has already touched – and helped – up to 60 veterans. The veterans who help train the dogs benefit as much as the veteran who ultimately receives a fully trained dog as their personal service dog.
By the time a dog is socialized, raised and trained (usually by age two), it has already touched – and helped – up to 60 veterans.
Here’s another story: A Marine drill instructor, whose wife had filed for divorce mainly because of the harsh way he was interacting with their three-year-old son, told Rick that learning to train a dog saved his marriage. The Warrior Canine Connection program taught him patience and to use what dog trainers call “the praise voice.” The Marine started bringing home that positive attitude and the praise to his son.
And one more story: A Navy SEAL was not improving despite stays in different hospitals over several years. He never left his room and could barely speak. Rick brought him a dog and asked if he would help train it. The SEAL uttered the dog’s name. In two weeks, the SEAL taught the dog to heel throughout the hospital. Soon after, he took the dog on the Metro and out for lunch. Explaining his success, the SEAL simply said, “You gave me a no-fail mission.”
“That is the power of doing for others,” Rick says. “And the power of the warrior ethos.”