Tag Archive for: service dog graduation

Congratulations to WCC’s Class of 2022!

Warrior Canine Connection was honored to introduce its 2022 graduating class of Veteran Service Dog Teams, Facility, Military Family Support and Breeder Dogs—19 in total and its largest class to date—during its tenth annual graduation on Saturday, September 24th.

This year’s ceremony took place virtually, with hundreds of supporters tuning from all over the globe via Facebook live to watch. The ceremony was capped by a story about each graduating Veteran Service Dog Team, along with keynote remarks from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. There was an outpouring of comments posted live on the page about the dogs, this year’s placements, namesakes, and more. (And although we couldn’t see them, we heard there were a few tears, too).

For those of you who missed the ceremony or perhaps would like to watch all the amazing Veteran Service Dog Team stories again, you can watch it online here.

Again, congratulations and best wishes to WCC’s Class of 2022!

WCC’s Virtual Graduation Gets Rave Reviews

Eight years running and Warrior Canine Connection’s graduation wouldn’t be what it is without the support from its Extreme Puppy Watchers, or “EPWs,” to which they’re most commonly referred.

The EPWs are a group of WCC supporters that number in the thousands and is made up of volunteers from all over the country. The group’s moniker grew out of their collective love for WCC’s puppies and the Veterans they grow up to support.

In a “normal” graduation year, the EPWs help with the annual event, including its organization and execution, even hosting a pre-graduation happy hour. But they do much more for WCC than just assist with its graduation ceremony; they also help to raise awareness, fundraise and provide support to the organization in numerous other ways throughout the entire year. 

Although there was some disappointment about not being able to see each other in-person at this year’s graduation, the EPWs also had many praises for this year’s event.

“It was a beautiful graduation and weekend. There were moments of tears and joy that touched my soul… it really was well done… next best thing to being together.”
– Sandi Rosenberg

“I watched it from beginning to end. I thought it was fantastic!”
– Robin Baus Artura

“My first attendance at a WCC graduation! Being in Australia, I would not have been able to attend in person. I love this virtual format. It was very touching. Great to have the veterans speak. As many have said, it was probably less stressful for them, which is good. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to put this all together. Very well done. Truly grateful.”
– Ming Ng

“It was a beautiful graduation. So many joyful moments, and so many moments where I needed a lot of Kleenex! The graduation touched my heart. I wish that we all could have been together, but I really enjoyed the whole event!”
– Leslie Shear

Typically, Veterans graduating with their service dogs participate in the ceremony during the ritual “leash passing” with their dog’s puppy parent who helped raise their dog. This year, due to the virtual format, we were able to hear from the Veterans up close and personal about their relationships with their newfound best friends. And judging by some of the EPW’s input, that was a welcome change.

“I especially loved hearing the veterans speak. They’re usually so overwhelmed by all the people at the in-person ceremony.”
– Julie Hansen

“I missed seeing everyone in person, but I enjoyed the virtual graduation ceremony. The national anthem was wonderful and brought me to tears. I really enjoyed hearing from the veterans and seeing the service dogs interacting with them and their families.”
– Taffy Zoab

“It was much better than I had anticipated! Kudos to all who helped put it together. I too think the veterans seemed more relaxed. Loved seeing Spencer, he did an awesome job hosting and hearing his story. I didn’t want it to end. I’ve re-watched it three times already!”
– Cheryl Cannone

“It was very well done. I LOVED seeing video of the veterans with their dogs and hearing them speak about the impact these dogs have on them. Keynote speaker was awesome as well. It was all great!
– Anna Middeke

“I found myself feeling depressed most of the weekend, just because I was missing all of my friends and our in-person visit. That being said, graduation was awesome. Thank goodness for the technology and the opportunity to still visit with friends and see our beloved WCC dogs graduate. The videos were an added plus as we got to know more about the puppy parents and about the veterans receiving the dogs. To have each veteran say a little something on video was an added bonus. I believe the veteran was comfortable addressing us in this manner and it added a real human component to our “WCC Family.”
– Sandy Goga

“I really LOVED graduation is this format. I thought hearing from the Veterans was so meaningful and really brings all the work preparing the dogs for their future full circle. It really put the focus on the Veterans.”
– Ericka Johanek

“I loved the pre-graduation posts about the dogs, veteran partners and Puppy Parents….it was fun to learn about them in advance. I missed being there, but I think this was a huge success for our very first virtual event. Fun Virtual Happy Hour! It was great getting to see folks and celebrate. Loved the concert by Josh Gallagher! I loved the playing of the National Anthem…made me put my hand on my heart. I really loved hearing all the veterans videos…I felt like I learned so much about each of them and the Puppy Parents. It was so nice to get to know them. The video that Alice made was stellar and such a great capture of the entire event! A treasured memory.”
– Cindy Meyers

“This was my 1st WCC graduation. It was wonderful. The keynote speaker, stories and phtoos about vets and parents were so moving. Thank you for making this happen.”
– Leila Collins

Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s WCC graduation possible!

Warrior Canine Connection’s Class of 2019

The following Veteran Service Dog Teams were introduced into WCC’s 2019 class of graduates.

SSG Spencer Milo, USA, Retired, and Service Dog Joseph

CAPT John Halsema, USN, and Service Dog McGhee

SSgt Ryan Boyles, USAF, and Service Dog Tommy

Col Dennis Fowler, USAF, Retired, and Service Dog Lou

The following Military Family Support Dogs were placed with their forever families. Military Family Support dogs help facilitate family relationships, including companionship, support and unconditional love for our military families.

SFC Mark Hughes, USA, Separated, with Military Family Support Dog Pegasus

MAJ Richard Star, USA, and Military Family Support Dog Otis

WCC also placed one facility dog this year. Facility dogs are paired with Veterans to work in a treatment or healthcare facility that provides care for active-duty Service Members and Veterans.

LCpl Kevin Rumley, USMC, and Facility Dog Clifford; the pair is working together at the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court.

As well as these graduates, the following are six additions to WCC’s breeding program and will produce future litters of service dogs:
Charlie II



Helping People, Changing Lives

In 2013, a dedicated team of volunteers from across the country scrambled to pull together WCC’s very first graduation. Seven years later, the tradition continues with an event that welcomes nearly 500 people and has become a highlight of the year for WCC. Still today, volunteers continue to be a key component to the event’s success. This year, approximately 50 volunteers from 18 states gave more than 700 hours of volunteer service to make the WCC Graduation a memorable day for Veteran graduates and their families.

“I started volunteering at WCC as a way our entire family could be involved together,” said Ericka Johanek, WCC volunteer and self-proclaimed Extreme Puppy Watcher (EPW). “As an Air Force family, it’s a way to give back to fellow members of our community who have given so much. Seeing the change the dogs make in our military members so they can live full and rewarding lives is so rewarding! I love being able to spread the word about what WCC does to our community.”   

While some volunteers are drawn to WCC because of their own military connections, others admittedly are drawn by the puppies. 

“I came for the puppies and stayed for the mission!” said Kim Rice, WCC EPW and long-time volunteer. “I helped plan the first event at WCC and was then asked to help plan the first graduation  the rest is history! I love volunteering for WCC in general, but graduation is my favorite.Graduation is an opportunity to celebrate all the hard work of the trainers and puppy parents, but most importantly, welcome the new graduates into the pack and celebrate their new chapter in life. It’s also a bit of a homecoming as many past graduates come back to visit WCC for graduation. It’s great to see the graduates and their families catching up with each other, staff and EPWs, and of course–did I mention the puppies! 

Each year, more than 800 volunteers touch every aspect of WCC’s programs through their generous gifts of time and talent. Key roles volunteers play include puppy parents, puppy sitters, puppy petting, facility maintenance, event and administrative support, and fundraising, among others. 

On behalf of a grateful organization, thank you to all WCC’s volunteers for your dedication and support — for at times dropping some of your own responsibilities to help fulfill those of others. Thank you for seeing the need and rising to the challenge. Thank you for sharing your time and talents to help improve the lives of the others. But most of all, thank you for your kindness, full hearts and conviction for serving our nation’s Veterans.   



Way to go, Mr. Wiggles: Check out these 13 assistance dogs who just graduated

September 30, 2019 – Have you ever wondered what an assistance dog who has completed its training gets instead of a diploma?

A forever veteran.

That’s exactly what happened Sept. 28 in Gaithersburg, Maryland during a “passing of the leash” ceremony for Warrior Canine Connection’s Class of 2019. Read the complete story at ConnectingVets.com.

Combat-wounded veterans meet new service dogs

Veterans and “Puppy Parents” from 18 different states came out to recognize the hard work and service of both the dogs and military service men and women.

September 28, 2019 – Veterans got to meet their new service dogs at Warrior Canine Connection’s graduation ceremony on Saturday.

Around a dozen “good boys and girls” were honored after they completed a two-year training program. These dogs provide emotional support for combat wounded veterans and their families. Watch the entire WDVM 25 story here.