Warrior Canine Connection Service Dog Luke Honored with 2020 AKC® Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence (ACE)

December 4, 2020

Boyds, Md. – Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) is proud to announce that service dog Luke, a graduate of WCC’s class of 2016, was named the winner of the 21st annual AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE) in the service dog category.

Ryan Garrison (Beavercreek, Ohio) and Luke, a six-year-old Labrador Retriever and mobility service dog, were paired up in 2016 by WCC. Garrison, who enlisted in the Air Force after the 9/11 attacks, was severely injured while deployed in Iraq in 2006. His injuries included fractured and torn disks in his back, which have resulted in numerous surgeries, chronic pain and anxiety.

Luke not only helps Garrison with his mobility and everyday tasks but since being paired with him, Garrison has been able to better control his anxiety and PTSD.

“I feel beyond blessed to be able to share what Luke, and other WCC service dogs, can do,” said Ryan Garrison. “My hope is to encourage other veterans to take a step forward to seek help.”

The official announcement was made today on an AKC.tv special, which featured a daily episode on each of the five ACE award categories (Uniformed Service K-9, Therapy, Service, Search and Rescue and Exemplary Companion dog) that aired November 30th – December 4th. Five winners were selected from 800 impressive nominations.

“Ryan and Luke have had a special bond since day one,” said Rick Yount, founder and executive director, Warrior Canine Connection. “Luke started healing humans as soon as he was named after 1st Sgt Luke Mercardante, a proud Marine killed in action in Kandahar Province Afghanistan. Service dog Luke brought comfort to the Gold Star Mercardante family, the many Veterans who helped train him in WCC’s Mission Based Trauma Recovery program, and especially to Ryan Garrison and his entire family, who regained their father and husband as they knew him.”

In January of this year, Ryan, Luke and his son were involved in a rollover vehicle crash, which triggered flashbacks of his incident in Iraq. Luke gently nudged and pawed at Ryan to pull him out of his anxiety attack. Once they were pulled to safety, Luke calmly walked over to him and took the comfort command position that he was taught at WCC. Even during such a traumatic incident, Luke followed his training and put comforting his owner ahead of anything else.

The experience with the incident earlier this year has inspired Ryan’s next challenge, Valor Therapeutics, a nonprofit he and his wife are launching to serve active duty Veterans and first responders in Dayton, Ohio and the surrounding area. They plan to provide creative arts therapies, such as music and art therapy, to individuals who’ve seen and experienced traumatic life events.

Media note: To arrange interviews or for photo requests, please contact Beth Bourgeois, Warrior Canine Connection, at 719-216-3206 or beth.bourgeois@warriorcanineconnection.org.


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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, and help in reintegrating back into their families and communities. For more information, visit www.warriorcanineconnection.org.  

The AKC Humane Fund, Inc. unites animal lovers in promoting the joy and value of responsible pet ownership through education, outreach and grant-making. The Fund provides financial grants to domestic violence shelters and Breed Rescue organizations and awards scholarships to students pursuing professions that strengthen the human-animal bond. The AKC Humane Fund’s Awards for Canine Excellence are given each year to promote the important role dogs play in our lives. Contributions to the AKC Humane Fund are fully tax-deductible as allowed by law under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. For more information, visit www.akchumanefund.org.

The American Kennel Club
Founded in 1884, the American Kennel Club is a not-for-profit organization which maintains the largest registry of purebred dogs in the world and oversees the sport of purebred dogs in the United States. The AKC is dedicated to upholding the integrity of its registry, promoting the sport of purebred dogs and breeding for type and function.  Along with its more than 5,000 licensed and member clubs and its affiliated organizations, the AKC advocates for the purebred dog as a family companion, advances canine health and well-being, works to protect the rights of all dog owners and promotes responsible dog ownership. More than 22,000 competitions for AKC-registered purebred and mixed breed dogs are held under AKC rules and regulations each year including conformation, agility, obedience, rally, tracking, herding, lure coursing, coonhound events, hunt tests, field and earthdog tests. Affiliate AKC organizations include the AKC Humane Fund, AKC Canine Health Foundation, AKC Reunite and the AKC Museum of the Dog.  For more information, visit www.akc.org.

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