Paw-some Holiday Gift Ideas

Looking for some holiday gift ideas for fellow dog lovers or perhaps even your beloved four-legged? Look no fur-ther—we have some ideas for you that are sure to please even the pickiest on your list.

2024 WCC Calendars
Get ready for a tail-wagging year with our 2024 calendars featuring adorable WCC dogs—a perfect holiday treat for dog lovers! Each month is packed with paw-sitively delightful photos that’ll fetch you joy.

WCC Merch
Deck yourself out in our stylish WCC swag! From accessories and apparel to sweatshirts and hats, our merch is not only fashionable but also a paw-erful way to show your support for WCC.

Fleecy Fetch Dog Toy
Looking for a paw-some dog toy? Check out the WCC HuggleFleece® Camo ball, a collaboration between WCC and HuggleHounds! Every purchase supports Warrior Canine Connection.

You can find all these items and more on WCC’s online shop.

Consider making a donation to WCC as a fur-bulous gift—whether in remembrance of a loved one, human or canine. It’s a gesture that’ll warm hearts and wag tails alike!

Happy holidays from the entire WCC pack!

New Faces at WCC

We are excited to introduce our newest members of the WCC pack, who bring a wealth of experience and passion to our mission. Join us in extending a warm welcome to these dedicated individuals as they help us serve our Veterans. 


Jennifer Ashley, Events Coordinator
We welcomed Jennifer Ashley to the WCC team at the end of August as our new Events Coordinator. In her role, she will be the mastermind behind the planning and logistics of all the events WCC hosts and participates in throughout the year. With our involvement in hundreds of events each year, Jennifer is primed to stay very busy.   

Before joining WCC, Jennifer supported both the International Services and Service to the Armed Forces lines of service at the American Red Cross. Inspired by the monthly visits from the therapy dogs at Walter Reed, she was drawn to work with an organization that included service dogs in its mission to aid recovering Service Members and Veterans. When Jennifer saw a job opening at WCC, she said it felt like serendipity; she instantly knew she had to apply.  

Jennifer shared, “I know how strong the animal-human connection is, and this position married my previous role of providing military support with my love of animals, so it was a total win-win.”

Jennifer earned her bachelor’s in business management and a minor in human development & family studies from the Pennsylvania State University. She has more than 10 years of experience working and volunteering for non-profits where she developed her skills in event planning, stakeholder engagement, development, volunteer management, and communication strategies.    

Outside of work, Jennifer, a huge animal lover, enjoys spending time with her best buddies, rescue dogs Duke and Moby, 6 and 8, playing tennis, and getting creative with all kinds of arts & crafts projects.  

Lisa Kilmer, Service Dog Training Instructor
Lisa Kilmer joined the WCC team as a Service Dog Training Instructor in September at its University of Pennsylvania program location in Philadelphia. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience working with animals with her, as she previously worked as a zookeeper. In her role, she had the opportunity to really dive into the training world by working with creatures big and small.  

Several years ago, Lisa turned her attention to dog training and has had the opportunity to work with dogs of all ages, breeds, temperaments, and behaviors through private lessons, as well as group settings. She realized her passion for working with dogs and loved helping others form a long and lasting bond with their dogs. She’s excited to be taking that experience to help train service dogs while working side by side with Veterans.  

“Dogs just don’t have a judgmental bone in their body,” said Lisa Kilmer. “They’re patient and understanding and in tune with human emotions. And they’re funny, too.” 

Lisa is a graduate of Rider University, where she received her bachelor’s in environmental science. 

Outside of WCC, Lisa and Bindi, her trusty Golden Retriever, who is a certified therapy dog, can be found volunteering with Angel Readers, a local volunteer group that offers a program called Angel on a Leash, where kids read to dogs and in the process, can overcome anxiety and nervousness while reading, as well as their fear of dogs. In addition to Bindi, Lisa also has a second dog, Spike, a Lab/Pit mix. When not working, she enjoys hiking and spending time at the beach. 


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Join WCC’s Class of 2023 Virtual Graduation

Is Saturday, September 23, 2023, marked on your calendar? If not, be sure to save the date for WCC’s class of 2023 virtual graduation ceremony! A little over a month out, the commencement ceremony will start at 11 a.m. ET sharp on WCC’s Facebook page and on our YouTube channel.

The virtual ceremony will be marked by powerful Veteran Service Dog Team videos, namesake stories, and so much more!

In addition to the virtual ceremony, WCC will host an in-person celebration at its Healing Quarters in Boyds, Maryland, from 1-4 p.m. ET, and everyone is welcome to join. Members of this year’s graduating class, including Veteran Service Dog Teams, will attend the celebration, as well as many from previous graduations. In addition, puppy parents, who have helped train the dogs, as well as several namesake families who have a personal connection to dogs named after them or a loved one, will also be in attendance.

All graduating service dogs will have completed WCC’s intensive, Mission Based Trauma Recovery (MBTR) training conducted by Warriors in recovery who learn to train mobility service dogs for fellow Warriors as a means of addressing their own symptoms of combat stress.

Whether virtually or in-person, we hope you will join us to celebrate WCC’s class of 2023!

WCC’s Dog Days of Summer Movie Watchlist

The dog days of summer are here and so is WCC’s movie watchlist! With ever-climbing temperatures, a movie night can be a great way to unwind (or even a free afternoon spent watching in the air conditioning).

We tapped our WCC team to share their favorite dog-related movies as inspiration for your next movie night — check them out below.


Without too much thought my favorite dog movie as of late is a Disney Plus Short that is about 10 minutes long called Kitbull. It’s about a chained-up and neglected Pitbull teaming up with a stray kitten. Their first meeting is initially fraught with posturing and fear and quickly turns into mutual understanding that kindness knows no species. They are a very unlikely and adorable duo that make me cry every time I watch it. Because it’s so short, it’s especially poignant. 10/10 would recommend.”
– Michele T.

“My favorite dog movie (although I haven’t watched it in years because I don’t want to bawl my eyes out) is Homeward Bound. To me, this movie is a story about perseverance and triumph as well as it depicts the wholesomeness of a human-animal bond.” 
– Jennifer D.

Aisle of Dogs has always been a favorite of mine since it was released. The art style is so well done in the movie! The dog characters have great depth to them and represent unique backgrounds and personalities so well! I love the “How it was Made” of the movie. Stop motion figures and such fine details into every shot and scene!! An appreciation of fine details for the best outcome, much like in Dog Training!”
– Ketcher T.

“My favorite dog movie is The Art of Racing in the Rain. I love how the story is told through the dog’s point of view and he’s so insightful. His bond with his owner is so insightful, and I love how he’s so in tune with what’s going on, even when his family isn’t. But it’s not for the faint of heart — a box of tissues is an absolute necessity when watching this one.”
– Beth B.

“My favorite dog movie is Marmaduke. It is just so funny and silly and doesn’t make me cry like most dog movies.”
– Riley S.

“That’s easy … Old Yeller (except the ending) and Benji. I don’t know that there’s any real reason that they are among favorites other than I probably “bonded” with the dogs on some level as a kid. …and since I watched both movies in my childhood (probably as reruns) they bring back memories that extend beyond the movie, I think. I haven’t watched either of them since so I don’t know that I’d have the same affinity for them as I remember having.”
– Kevin S.

I always loved “Clifford the Big Red Dog” as a kid. I shared the same name with the girl character, Emily Elizabeth so I would tell my friends my mom named me after the book. That wasn’t the truth, but it was fun to play around with. Now, my daughter’s favorite book is Clifford. She literally asks me to read it every day. The cover’s fallen off and the last page is ripped out, but it’s creating new memories with her. My favorite dog movie (and book) is still Clifford. Now, just need to wait until she is old enough to sit through the movie.”
– Emily P.

“I don’t watch dog movies; they make me cry LOL. I do love a Scooby Doo though.”
-Sarah D.

The Adventures of Milo and Otis – This was one of the first dog movies that I saw when I was little. I loved the friendship between the cat and dog and the adventure that they went on together. Even though their “adventure” took them on separate paths as they grew older, in the end they came back together, and it was like no time had passed. I think the same can be said for humans. It’s a testament to this ride we call life and how the friendships we have evolve and last through our lifetime.”
– Lydia D.

“My favorite dog movie is Balto. It’s one of my favorite childhood movies. My guy stepped up as a sled dog to help deliver an important vaccine in Alaska!”
– Cy F.

Don’t see your favorite on the list? Drop us a line and let us know!


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New Faces at WCC: Val Skinner

The WCC pack is excited to welcome new service dog training instructor Valerie “Val” Skinner to its team! 

Val came on board in April and is working at WCC’s Healing Quarters in Boyds, where she is responsible for the evaluation and skill refinement of on-site service dogs in training and advanced training dogs. She will also support puppy parents and puppy development. 

“I joined WCC because I really love working with Veterans,” said Val. “They’re relatable, down-to-earth and aren’t here for any other reason than to help make their lives and others’ better. I really appreciate all the time and efforts they put into the training the dogs for these important placements.” 

An experienced dog trainer, Val has spent several decades training dogs, beginning with a rescue and placement organization for Rottweilers, followed by several years working with another ADI-accredited service dog organization. Val received her education and training at Bergin University.  

When not working, Val enjoys going to the beach, spending time outdoors and cooking up some BBQ with her family. 

Please join us in welcoming Val to the WCC team! 

New Faces at WCC: Alexandra Kozell and Ketcher Taylor

Warrior Canine Connection is growing! We are pleased to share we’ve welcomed a couple of new members to our team—Alexandra Kozell and Ketcher Taylor—learn more about them below.

New Faces at WCCAlexandra “Allie” Kozell, Service Dog Training Instructor

Alexandra “Allie” Kozell joined WCC in Boyds, Maryland, where she is our newest service dog training instructor. Allie joined WCC in January 2023, and in her new role, will be working closely with our service dogs in training and our amazing Puppy Parents through classes and hands-on support.

Allie says she always knew she wanted to work with animals. She attended Ramapo College of New Jersey, where she studied psychology. While in school, she also worked with dogs at a day care and training facility. After college, she went on to become a dog trainer and learned hands on from multiple certified and experienced trainers gaining knowledge of many different training styles. After getting her CCPDT-KA certification she spent her time working with pet dogs through day training, private lessons, and classes. Her prior experience is a welcome addition to the WCC team.

“I really love the work, and I am so honored and proud to be part of a program that helps veterans on their rehabilitation journey through their connection with a dog,” says Allie. “Dogs are happy all the time, they’re happy to see you and eager to please. They’re just really supportive and help break through barriers.”

When not working, Allie can be found hiking with Mac, her one-year-old yellow Labrador.

Ketcher Taylor, Service Dog Training InstructorNew Faces at WCC

Ketcher Taylor, a service dog training instructor at WCC’s California program located at the Palo Alto VA, also joined WCC in January 2023.

As a trainer, Ketcher’s area of focus will be working with WCC’s service dogs in training and Puppy Parents through classes and hands-on support, and he will also assist with delivering WCC’s Mission Based Trauma Recovery (MBTR) training to Veterans in the Menlo Park Program.

“I’m enjoying it a lot,” said Ketcher. “I enjoy the team I work with here in California and getting to know everyone back at headquarters, and the work has been extremely enjoyable with the dogs we have here.”

Ketcher is a graduate from the Bergin University of Canine Studies, where he received a bachelor’s degree in cynology. After graduating, he started training service dogs for Veterans through an affiliate organization of the University. He gained experience and skills in training, group class teaching, outreach and fundraising, as well as dog placement. Having worked in both San Diego and San Antonio, Ketcher has gained an appreciation for the large Military communities throughout the country.

Ketcher also spent several years working in animal shelters, doing behavioral training and abuse rehabilitation. There, he gained experience working with all types of different dog breeds. While gaining knowledge and skill with; behavior training, abuse rehab and welfare, as well as rehoming and adoptions.

A dog lover, Ketcher enjoys spending time with Pinot, his 5-year-old Husky, including outdoor adventures, hikes and taking in the scenery.

WCC Bench Madness – 2023

New Faces at WCC: Leilani Shore and Riley Spickler

Please join us in welcoming two new members to the WCC pack! Both Leilani Shore, puppy program outreach coordinator, and Riley Spickler, puppy development assistant, joined WCC in December helping to fulfill important roles — learn more about out new team members!

Leilani Shore, Puppy Program Outreach Coordinator

An animal lover at heart, Leilani has always gravitated to dogs and horses. While attending Ohio University, she also worked for an equine program that supported Veterans through therapeutic horsemanship.

After graduating with a dual bachelor’s in psychology and animal science, she went on to work for an equine program that provided support for kids in foster care. She then worked for an animal biotech company that provided at-home cat DNA tests; the results are used to give owners a comprehensive report on their cats.

When she saw the opening at WCC for a Puppy Program Outreach Coordinator, it was one she knew she couldn’t pass up.

“I love my job,” said Leilani. “It’s not very often people can say that.”

Although still new to the role, Leilani works directly with WCC’s Puppy Parent program to help recruit new volunteers and support those already providing crucial aid and care for its service dogs in training.

“The Puppy Parents are awesome … it’s amazing that people are willing to volunteer their time and do what it takes to raise these dogs for us; we couldn’t do what we do without our Puppy Parents,” said Leilani. “I’m always in awe of them with how they sacrifice their time for us and help us out.”

When not working, Leilani enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Luna and Rosco, and her two horses, Ramsey and Maverick.


Riley Spickler, Puppy Development Assistant

Also joining WCC in December is Riley Spickler, our new Puppy Development Assistant. In her role, Riley works in WCC’s puppy department and helps with the socialization and care of WCC’s older pups and eventually be taking on the position of boots rank instructor.

A Maryland native, Riley graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a bachelor’s in animal and avian sciences. During her sophomore year, she helped co-raise and sit service dogs for the Guide Dog Foundation and has spent countless hours walking and pet sitting dogs since then. She was also very involved in her campus ministry during college and loves connecting with new people.

“I have had a long-time dream of working with Veterans and service dogs, so this job is a perfect combination of both,” said Riley.

Riley’s supervisor says she has made an immediate impact in her new role.

Outside of work, Riley can often be found attending University of Maryland basketball games, spending time with friends and she also hosts trivia at a local brewery.

WCC’s Manion: From Service Dog in Training to Search & Rescue

While breeding, training and placing service dogs with Veterans is one of Warrior Canine Connection’s (WCC) primary objectives, not all dogs are an ideal fit for the job. In fact, only 35-40% (on average) of a WCC litter will end up placed as a service dog. So, what happens to the rest of the litter? WCC also places military family support dogs and facility dogs, and other dogs are considered career change or release dogs with priorities set for military families. Whether they choose a career of service or not, WCC’s dogs all end up in a happy home.  

To graduate from WCC’s service dog training, a dog must pass all of the necessary health tests as well as their training courses. As our excellent trainers get to know the dogs better through training and socializing, they are able to understand what a dog is good at and what they need to improve on. Our trainers have special bonds with each and every dog that comes through the program, and helping the dogs determine their future is an essential objective. 

WCC’s Manion, named in honor of U.S. Marine Corps First Lieutenant Travis Manion, is a great example of a successful career change. One of the first traits that began to emerge with Manion was his work drive.  

“Manion’s motivation to serve others is his most unique trait,” said Manion’s first puppy parent, Patrick Siemon, who spent seven months helping raise Manion. “He has always been so focused on whoever has the other end of his leash and is always ready to work. He looks at whoever he is training with like they are the only person on earth and rarely takes his eyes off of them.”  

When Manion was around 9 months old, his service dog training began. WCC trainer Jen Blessing had the honor of being Manion’s main handler and trainer while he was at WCC.  

“When Manion first got here, he was a crazy puppy with no boundaries,” said Jen. It didn’t take long for Jen’s training to start making a difference, though. “It was a little rough for the first couple of weeks, but then Manion really snapped into it. He just needed a little help.”  

Before long, Manion was paws deep in training, even accompanying Jen to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center “almost every day.” 

As the training progressed, Jen noticed that while Manion was enthusiastic in trying to learn, his house manners stilled needed some work. He was having a tough time breaking his habit of counter surfing for food.  

“He’s so smart that he learned how to get away with things, and his drive for food beat everything else. He had an over-arousal with food,” said Jen. “Bad house manners are one of the pretty clear indicators that a dog may not be a good fit as a service dog,” she explained.  

Two things had become clear to Jen: Manion had a high work drive, and Manion was food driven. After a stall in Manion’s progress in the training, WCC decided an environmental reset could help fully unlock Manion’s potential, so he was brought to WCC’s Asheville, North Carolina, location. There, he continued to show a strong desire to work, but his endless stamina and devotion to food were still holding him back from his service dog training. 

After about six months in Asheville, Manion returned to WCC’s Healing Quarters in Boyds for an evaluation. The trainers at WCC collectively decided that Manion’s high energy and house manners may not be ideal for a service dog.  

The next step was to figure out what career would be a good fit for Manion, and Jen shared her input with the other WCC trainers: “He needs to have a job. He loves to work and is way too smart. Manion needed to be placed with an active person who will keep him stimulated. He clearly loves to work.”  

Among the possibilities WCC trainers discussed was the career of being a search and rescue dog. “Work drive and toy drive has to be so high for a search and rescue dog,” continued Jen, and Manion had both of those traits. “We reached out to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF), and they asked for videos of Manion doing certain things, like trying to find a ball in a field, so we laid a foundation with his toy drive. They ended up liking him.”  

Manion made his career change and joined SDF, where he has fit right in. His work drive, toy drive and motivation for food made him the perfect fit for SDF. He has already assisted in multiple search and rescue missions, including one in Florida after Hurricane Ian devasted the state. 

Jen and the rest of WCC continues to follow Manion’s journey with pride, joy and love. Even Manion’s first puppy parent, Patrick, still closely follows Manion’s growth with SDF. “When WCC told me they thought being a search dog would be a better fit for him due to his high energy, it made sense. I can’t wait to see what Manion and the Search Dog Foundation will get to do next to help others!” 

You can follow Manion’s journey by following The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation on social media and Manion’s own Instagram page.  

Paw-some Holiday Gift Ideas to Spoil Your Furry Friend

Let’s face it, our dogs don’t take a day off — they’re our best friends 365 days out of the year, so it’s only natural that many of us want to spoil them during the holiday season. To help you decide on a gift for your special four-legged friend, we rounded up some ideas from members of Warrior Canine Connection’s pack that are creative, thoughtful, and yes, budget-conscious.

Toys, Toys and more Toys

WCC Service Dog Training Instructor Michele Tate, who works with WCC’s Asheville programs, loves the Starmark chew toys for several reasons.

“I really like this toy for pet parents because it has inserts you can buy that are super tasty, and it also works great with applesauce, peanut butter, yogurt, kibble or other treats as a fun frozen toy that can help enrich your dog both mentally and physically.” 

WCC Program Director and Service Dog Training Instructor at the Palo Alto VA Alexis Baker, shared a few toys that are personal favorites of WCC’s Piccone, a service dog in training she previously worked with in Calif.

“Piccone loved to walk around and squeak this rubber chicken! It provided him with tons of entertainment, and he liked giving it to me to squeak and give back to him, and even squeaking it together!

Another favorite for many is Hugglehounds® pet toys. The organization is also a supporter of WCC, and featured two of WCC’s service dogs — Luke and Tommy II — in adorable, plush miniatures, which are for sale here. 

WCC trainers recommend never leaving toys with unsupervised pets.

Special note: If purchasing gifts on Amazon, be sure to elect Warrior Canine Connection as your charity of choice on Amazon Smiles! The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price your eligible purchases to WCC. To-date, AmazonSmiles has helped raise more than $29,000 for WCC.

Tasty Treats
Trainer Michele Tate also recommends these Churro Cheese Dog Treats based on her experience with her own dogs.  

“I love these because I have a dog who loves to chew and a dog who hates to chew, and they both enjoy these. They help clean up the farther back molars as well and they aren’t stinky and don’t leave any yucky residue or stains as they consume them.”  

Safety device
Another great idea includes a practical gift that is useful and will help keep your dog safe.

Alexis Baker shared one of her favorite safety items — a rechargeable light- up collar, which she says, “is great to help your dog be more visible at night!”

Gifts for Humans, too
Don’t forget to treat the humans in your life or perhaps yourself, too, with WCC’s annual holiday ornament. The 2022 edition features two options — a black or yellow Lab — with the WCC logo and they are available for purchase on the WCC website.

Another favorite is the WCC calendar, and 2023 is now available! Complete with adorable photos of WCC dogs; a new image will bring a smile to your face each month. Check out the 2023 WCC calendars here.

Happy holidays and happy shopping ahead!