Warrior Canine Connection: A Unique Approach to Mission Based Trauma Recovery

Supporting Veterans: Warrior Canine Connection's Mission to Train Service Dogs for Fellow Vets

September 13, 2022

We’ve had the opportunity to speak with a few organizations that are focused on supporting our veterans. One DipJar customer, Foar from Home, rowed across the Atlantic, raising money along the way for K9s for Warriors. More recently, we spoke with Jen Wilder and Brady Wilks of Warrior Canine Connection (WCC). Its mission is to enlist recovering warriors in a therapeutic mission of learning to train service dogs for fellow vets. A noble and laudable effort.

Oh, and they have a puppy cam!

Jen, the director of development, has been at WCC since 2015. A military spouse, she has been all over the world, and her work has long focused on working with veterans' service organizations. Brady oversees external relations and has been involved since 2020. His family has a long and proud military tradition, and he is passionate about WCC’s mission.

As is so often the case, WCC arose from an unexpected confluence of events. It was founded by Rick Yount, a social worker focused on helping kids deal with trauma, which was the focus of his master’s thesis. Along the way, he was gifted a dog and saw a huge impact on the kids he was working with. He earned his degree in assistance dog training, an idea that is at the core of WCC’s work.

What Rick realized was that it wasn't simply about training dogs, but about how that training could serve as a form of Animal-Assisted Therapy. As he developed this idea and approach, Rick approached a Veterans Affairs facility in Menlo Park to pilot the program. As luck would have it, a Congressional delegation was also on hand and, upon seeing the dogs and learning of the work, asked if the program could be brought to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

From that start, the Warrior Canine Connection has expanded to 13 sites around the country.

While dogs are helpful, the challenge of recovery can’t be solved one dog at a time. In the traditional service dog model, one dog would go to one vet. Using the Warrior Canine model, one vet will receive the dog, but 50 to 60 others will be involved in that dog’s training. This expands the therapeutic benefit of the program far beyond the individual recipient.

WCC enlists recovering warriors in the therapeutic mission of learning to train service dogs for their fellow veterans. Its Mission Based Trauma Recovery (MBTR) model helps recovering warriors reconnect with life, their families, their communities, and each other. “Our hope,” said Jen, “is that other service dog organizations will consider and adopt this approach.”

By training and providing service dogs in this way, WCC is helping support wounded, ill, and injured veterans and their families. To date, more than 100 dogs have been placed, and another 100+ are currently in training. But Warrior Canine can’t do this work alone. More than 500 volunteers have provided more than 80,000 hours - which is the equivalent of more than $2M to the organization.

These volunteers not only help WCC, but are helped as well. “We assumed our volunteers would be older veterans,” said Jen, “but that didn’t turn out to be the case.” Instead, a whole group of “extreme puppy watchers” started tuning into the Warrior Canine Puppy Cam. During Covid, 10 million people across the country - first responders in particular - tuned in to watch the dogs. It was a huge source of volunteers, one of whom said, “we came for the puppies. We stayed for the mission.”

The mission element is critical. In too many cases, veterans who need treatment might have an aversion to seeking it out. Some of them, however, are willing to help train the dogs, which is also therapeutic. They are willing to do this for a fellow vet - training the dogs provides a mission and a goal.

The result of these efforts is that more than 6,000 veterans have been touched by this program. A large number, but it is only a fraction of the wounded warriors who need the support Warrior Canine Connection, and other organizations, provide.

Another important part of the mission is the Warrior Canine Connection’s Namesake Program. As Brady explained, the dogs are named for veterans, as well as active service members. “Gold Star families and friends of warriors suggest names,” he said, “and the story of these people are told and retold and lives on in all the lives touched by the program.” The Namesake families are also invited to the dog’s graduation.

As is true for so many successful nonprofits, Warrior Canine Connection is supported by a caring and generous community. Jen shared a story of how that support is manifest, “In February of 2020, we were hit by a tornado that impacted our 80-acre facility and took out one of our buildings. When we put out the call for help, 125 people came to lend a hand. It was so meaningful to know our community has our back.”

Corporations also play a part, both as funders and sources of volunteers. Companies regularly reach out with offers to help, and Warrior Canine is happy to oblige. On various corporate volunteer days of service, people can be seen painting, building, and weeding. The organization is also funded through government grants and benefits from the fact that it is headquartered - rent-free - on Maryland State Park land.

Prior to the pandemic, Warrior Canine Connection held more than 200 events each year. That number is once again increasing, and the most recent event - Graduation - occurred both in-person and online. As in the past, hundreds of people were on hand, enjoying delicious food from Mission BBQ - always a feast.

“We receive 5,000 or 6,000 donations per year,” said Jen, “some large and some small. Whether from corporations, government agencies, NGOs, or individuals, we all need to work together.”

DipJar is pleased to be part of the team supporting the Warrior Canine Project. When Jen was looking for the fastest way to process gifts, DipJar came to the fore. It has made it easy to raise money during in-person events, and the team loves the fact that it is quick and cashless. People enjoy using it, and it always makes an impression. The opportunity to make a contribution at an in-person event - and receive immediate feedback - is just one of the things that help DipJar stand out. We are honored to support the crucial mission and service provided by Warrior Canine Connection.


Keep Up To Date With DipJar

Be the first to know about solution updates and receive fundraising tips before everyone else. Subscribe to our newsletter!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
More Articles

Read more articles that might be valuable to you

DipJar Updates
DipJar and Stage AE present Season of GivingDipJar and Stage AE present Season of Giving
November 29, 2023
DipJar and Stage AE partner to present Season of Giving in the local Pittsburgh community.
DipJar Updates
DipJar Announces Text-to-Donate Functionality through Partnership with AuthViaDipJar Announces Text-to-Donate Functionality through Partnership with AuthVia
July 25, 2023
Learn about DipJar's new feature, text-to-donate, and how it can help your fundraise!
Fundraising Tips
Understanding Event Sponsorships: 3 Insights for NonprofitsUnderstanding Event Sponsorships: 3 Insights for Nonprofits
June 20, 2023
Insights for nonprofits on event sponsorships.

View our solutions

Read about our Company