Warrior Canine Connection growing into new location
By MEREDITH TIBBETTS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 15, 2017
BOYDS, MD — The Warrior Canine Connection kicked off its year with a new litter of puppies at its new location.
Born Jan. 30, the Golden Retriever puppies are the first of several litters that the nonprofit is hoping will be born at a sprawling farm in Boyds, Md., just north of Rockville and Gaithersburg.
The nonprofit works to help veterans with TBI and PTSD reconnect with their families, communities and life through work with service dogs. They train the dogs, which are later placed with fellow veterans with mobility disabilities.
The new location — Schaeffer Farm, one of the largest dairy operations in Montgomery County — is part of Seneca Creek State Park, run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “We have a long-term lease of this property and we’re renovating this ... to be our Healing Quarters,” said founder and executive director of Warrior Canine Connection Rick Yount.
The expansion will center on an 80-year-old dairy barn and will include a training facility, wellness center, headquarters and welcome center.
“What I saw was one of the most iconic American symbols of home that I can imagine,” Yount said. “So my whole focus went on that barn ... being used to support veterans and having them stay in the loft and having it converted into nice housing for our interns and those that were coming to get dogs.” Other barn space will be used for staff and offices.
His grand vision — which started with maintenance and removal of weeds and debris — involves collaboration from Maryland and several groups and foundations.
The Associated General Contractors of America made the barn its centennial project and has helped find engineering and architecture firms to provide free services. The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation has also contributed to the expansion. The president of Steel Framers Industry Association was putting in screws himself at the new welcome center.
The Canine Center is partnering with the state Department of Natural Resources’ Wounded Warrior and Veteran Outreach Program. According to its website, the program aims to provide servicemembers and veterans opportunities to work, learn, volunteer and be active in Maryland’s natural habitats.
“You drive up here and you go from a very urban environment housing complex, and just as you think you’ve gone too far, you arrive at this farm in the middle of a state park, which gives you the feeling of being in Kansas,” Yount said.
He said the unique pastoral setting will help WCC carry out its mission. The new location is only 30 minutes from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where the group provides services in the behavioral health and brain injury treatment programs and the Warrior Transition Unit.
“We’d outgrown our previous facility,” Yount said. They need the space for trainers and several hundred volunteers — everything from puppy parents and petters to ambassadors.
Each litter of puppies is given a group name — the most recent is called Courage. Each puppy is named for servicemembers and veterans that have made significant contributions to America — and in many cases, the ultimate sacrifice. Previous litters include the Honor Litter and the Valor Litter. The Courage puppies are still waiting for their names. For now, they are identified by the color of their collars. Soon they will go to their puppy parents to be trained before they receive advanced training and placement with a disabled veteran.
In addition to the renovation, WCC is taking part in two studies. “Human-Dog Neuroendocrine and Physiological Alterations in Servicemembers with PTSD Who Train Service Dogs” looks at the neurobiological underpinnings of having a service dog. It’s being conducted at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda and will conclude in 2018.
“Biopsychosocial Efficacy of Service Dog Training in Servicemembers with PTSD” is funded by Congress and is set to start this summer. It will look at real-time stress levels of people in the same situations with and without the service dogs. Sleep studies will be performed, and researchers in Bethesda will be looking at how service dogs affect parenting skills.
The Canine Connection could get more exposure in the immediate future. If Senate Bill 441 passes, it would establish the Maryland Veterans Service Animals Program within the Department of Veterans Affairs, pairing vets with therapy dog programs like WCC. The measure, passed unanimously March 10 by the Senate and on its way to the House, would boost outreach efforts to veterans.
You can watch the puppies live on their video cam here: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/service-puppy-cam-3