Kevin and his trusty pal Clifford, a Warrior Canine Connection facility dog, are just one of the Veteran Service Dog Teams that graduated in September as part of Warrior Canine Connection’s class of 2019. The two have been training and working together for almost two years but recently, Clifford’s leash was passed to Kevin, marking the official beginning of their pairing.
The duo is also a regular fixture at the Buncombe County Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) in Asheville, N.C., where they help Veterans involved in the legal system navigate a way to bettering their lives.
And who better to help fellow Veterans than Kevin? You see, Kevin is also in long-term recovery, himself. While in the Marine Corps, after sustaining severe combat wounds during his deployment in Iraq, he became addicted to opioids and pain pills he was prescribed while recovering from his physical wounds. Kevin credits the support of the VA and community providers with getting his life back on track, completing graduate school, and becoming a licensed social worker. Now he’s helping other Veterans on their recovery journey.
“My experience working with Clifford has meant the world to me,” said Kevin Rumley, coordinator, Buncombe County VTC. “As a combat-wounded veteran, I struggle to remain regulated and calm in high-stress situations. Clifford brings joy and happiness to the courthouse, and anywhere he goes. From providing snuggles to traumatized youth in the courtroom (during difficult G.A.L Trials), to supporting justice-involved Veterans (in Veterans Court), Clifford is having a positive impact on every person he meets.”
The Buncombe County VTC program, a non-adversarial, treatment-based diversion program, is overseen by Judge Marvin Pope. The program is designed to help Veterans with legal issues, focuses on recovery through a coordinated effort amongst the VA and community mental health providers. In fact, if Veterans get help and do the work, upon completion of the program, Veterans can petition to have their charges dismissed.
Their partnership with Warrior Canine Connection has proven especially beneficial to all parties involved. Veteran participants in the court receive their VTC-required community service hours by training the WCC puppies, and once the puppies graduate after two years, they are paired with a combat-wounded Veteran.
“All this time I have been training these dogs, I thought I was teaching them, but in all actuality, the dogs were teaching me,” said Robinson Moore, VTC participant.
Kevin and Clifford don’t just help in the courtroom, they also assist Veterans with finding meaningful employment, housing, educational pursuits, custody cases, and everything in-between. Kevin talks about the sense of community that comes from working with Veterans during their recovery process.
“When we served together, it was a single unit, a tribe,” said Kevin. “Everyone was looking out for each other. We believe that this is just as important now that we are out of the service. It is through connection and service to others, including with the service dogs, that we are empowered to not only recover — but to thrive.”
Kevin is excited for the continued partnership with WCC, saying “We have already seen the positive impact Clifford has had on the Courthouse community. My hope is to continue to bring WCC to those places of greatest need… the healing that comes from working with these dogs is incredible.”