The idea for Warrior Canine Connection, a nonprofit focused on trauma recovery for veterans, came to Rick Yount by surprise. About 28 years ago, a couple of his veteran buddies gifted him Gabriel, an 8-week-old golden retriever, for Christmas.
Gabriel “manipulated me very well and convinced me to take him to work one day because he was so small and would certainly perish based on the look he gave me at the door,” Yount joked.
Formerly a social worker, Yount helped kids in the foster care system who were going through severe trauma. His dog’s presence had enough of a positive impact on them that he decided to investigate whether working with dogs could benefit veterans returning from combat.
The son of a veteran, Yount founded Warrior Canine Connection in 2011, with a pilot program starting at a Veterans Affairs hospital in California in 2008.
In celebration of Veterans Day, Warrior Canine Connection received a 2021 Chrysler Voyager on Wednesday as part of Progressive’s Keys to Progress initiative. Since 2013, the insurance company has donated more than 1,000 vehicles, 23 in Maryland, to veterans or related organizations as part of the 11th annual giveaway.
“It’s always good when we are able to receive help like this because it’s so mission-critical,” Yount said.
Yount was on site Wednesday at Progressive in Glen Burnie, along with a couple of Gold Star Families – those whose family members died while serving in the line of duty – who volunteer with the program.
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In addition, one of Warrior Canine Connection’s program graduates from last year, Ashley Frantz, received a vehicle t donated by Progressive at a Virginia location.
Warrior Canine Connection has a limited transportation fleet, and staff must often use personal vehicles in their work with the 117 dogs currently in the two-year training pipeline, according to the organization’s website.
The donated vehicle will be used for travel to work with veterans, to deliver dogs to veterinary exams and train volunteer puppy-raisers, among other things, according to Warrior Canine Connection.
“I think with training dogs, it’s just patience, and there are a lot of parallels to parenting,” Yount said. “Being consistent, being bonded and using effective praise are all very necessary when training dogs. It’s great training to help establish with veterans (who are dealing) with emotional numbing.”
With headquarters in Boyds, Warrior Canine Connection has 15 satellite locations nationwide, 50 part-time and full-time employees, and 100 volunteers.
Yount said it takes $3 million to fund the program each year, but the benefits the veterans receive from their program are priceless.
“During deployments, it’s all about reacting, but dog training is all about slowing down and being patient,” he said. “It’s important but not always easy to learn.”