GERMANTOWN, Md. — The Warrior Canine Connection, a program that uses an army of volunteer puppy raisers, dog trainers and veterans to prepare service dogs for wounded veterans and their families, has been partnering with military facilities in the D.C. region since 2009.
But suddenly — and without explanation — that came to a stop, says Warrior Canine Connection Executive Director Rick Yount.
He said his trainers and puppy raisers at Fort Belvoir and at two locations on the campus of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, were told on Oct. 27 to vacate their offices that afternoon.
“At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, I received a phone call saying there was a stop work order. There was no explanation whatsoever as to why that was the decision,” Yount said.
Asked if there had been an issue with the program, problems with staff or an incident at either of the military sites, Yount said he hasn’t heard anything.
“We’re trying to get answers. Why would — all of the sudden — a program be halted that was serving patients?” Yount asked.
If a dog had bitten someone or if there had been an incident, he said he could understand why there would be concerns about the program or even an interruption in the activities that his staffers and volunteers provide. “We’ve heard absolutely nothing,” he said.
WTOP has contacted Fort Belvoir and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Warrior Canine Connection had two offices at the Bethesda campus, one at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence and one at Building 11. Public affairs officials at both facilities have been contacted. Jimmie Cummings at Fort Belvoir said he was trying to track down information on the contract, which Yount said was not set to expire until 2019.
The Warrior Canine Connection training model has volunteers visit with young puppies to socialize them when they are just weeks old. Then, the training begins. Volunteer puppy raisers get training on how to handle the dogs at Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed. Veterans have been taking an active part in the training so that eventually the dogs that “graduate” the program can be placed for a life of service alongside a wounded warrior.
That’s what’s so distressing, Yount said.
Some veterans told him that knowing they’d be visited by the dogs and training with them gave them a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
“There’s no question that this program saves lives,” he said, cradling a future service dog named “Lou” in his arms.