Service Dog Training Program Helps Wounded Veterans Avoid Incarceration
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Warrior Canine Connection is offering a new program to support the Veterans Treatment Court in Asheville, North Carolina. Working with the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court, the WCC program utilizes service dog training as a community service option for Veterans involved with the criminal justice system.
“We are honored to be able to provide service dog training as a community service option in participation with the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court,” said Rick Yount, founder and executive director, Warrior Canine Connection. “Several Veteran participants have shared that they feel good about their volunteerism — helping to train the dogs but what they didn’t realize going in was just how much the training of the dogs would end up helping them. That’s a powerful testimonial to the impact these service dogs in training are having on our nation’s Veterans, and we’re thrilled to be providing this service in Asheville.”
The Asheville-based program marks the sixth WCC program working with Veteran Treatment Court programs, including four sites (Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties) in California and in Baltimore. The VTC program utilizes WCC’s Mission Based Trauma Recovery (MBTR) model in which Veterans work to overcome the stress of combat by training service dogs for their fellow Veterans.
One Asheville participant shared the following thoughts on his participation in the VTC program:
“I love working with Clifford. As a combat-wounded Veteran, I have struggled physically (32 surgeries) and emotionally; to make human connections and to find my tribe after the Marines has been difficult. I think this is because I just don’t feel safe in my own skin, let alone around others. Working with Clifford, I feel normal. I feel like a person again. Who knew that working with these dogs would help me feel more like a human. Because of the work we are doing in WCC, I am able to speak to other people [now]. The best way to put it — Clifford keeps me calm. He is always happy to see me. And he responds to my moods. I am learning that I can control how I feel. And instead of being alone with my thoughts, I am often focusing on Clifford.”
Veterans involved in the courts are often required to complete a set number of community service hours. The dog training — offered through WCC — is one of the options on the docket. Training takes place on a weekly basis at the courthouse and Veterans can participate within the WCC program for the duration of their VTC commitment.
“I am so excited to have the VTC working with the Warrior Canine Connection,” said Honorable Judge Marvin Pope. “WCC (Amy and Clifford) has brought a new sense of joy into the courtroom that directly mirrors our non-punitive and supportive approach. I am seeing Veterans that are otherwise isolated and reserved (from unaddressed PTSD symptomatology) coming to life. Through this new modality, Veterans are learning critical skills of self-regulation, pro-social development and self-soothing. While we are training the service animal, it is actually a mutual process of growth and healing.”
The program teaches Veterans how to work with service dogs in training which helps not only to meet their legal community service obligations but also fulfills a time-honored military tradition of Warriors helping Warriors. In doing so, the Veteran can also benefit from skills development in communication, confidence building, accountability, emotional regulation and patience to promote an act of service while receiving a therapeutic benefit.
Starting in 2008, states and counties in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs created a system of Veterans Treatment Courts throughout the nation. To date, these VTCs have used treatment to help rehabilitate more than 10,000 Veterans with mental health and/or substance dependence and legal issues. Despite these efforts, tens of thousands of Veterans continue to need similar assistance.
For some Veterans, symptoms of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury can contribute to their misconduct, such as increased risk-taking, self-medication and other behavioral issues that result in their subsequent, and sometimes repeated, involvement in the criminal justice system.
The WCC VTC Program was developed and implemented thanks in part to a 2017 grant provided by the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The Foundation had provided a previous 2016 grant to WCC to oversee a feasibility plan to use service dogs as a community service option.
For more information, please contact Beth Bourgeois, Warrior Canine Connection, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-216-3206.
About Warrior Canine Connection
Warrior Canine Connection is a pioneering organization that utilizes a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of Warriors helping Warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other challenges, while giving injured combat Veterans a sense of purpose, help in reintegrating back into their families and communities, and a potential career path as a service dog trainer. For more information, visit www.warriorcanineconnection.org.
About Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court
The mission of the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) is to promote public safety through accountability and responsibility. The Veterans Treatment Court utilizes a non-adversarial, team approach to providing a host of mental health, addiction, trauma, behavioral, and psychosocial services and supports to veterans facing non-violent felony charges. We assist and support Veterans and their families as they move through a coordinated effort among the court and community-based Veteran services while improving their quality of life. Buncombe County is now on the cutting edge of recovery-based diversion court programs and serves as an example for criminal justice reform. Learn more by visiting www.buncombeveteranscourt.com. For more information, contact VTC Coordinator Kevin Rumley at (828) 259-6601.