Many U.S. veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious injuries, both mental and physical. One of the newer techniques in assisting them is the use of service dogs who are trained to aid as well as recognize and respond to potential issues.
That’s where organizations like the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) and its volunteers, including Capt. Chris Abell (JetBlue), come in. Volunteers raise a puppy for two to three years and train it—with guidance and assistance from WCC—to be the companion our returning heroes need and deserve.
“You take the puppy with you everywhere you go,” explained Abell. “The grocery store, kids’ soccer games, college tours, dentist and doctor visits, Capitals hockey games, the beach.” Abell and his family also trained their dog, named Clarke (after a WWII airman), at home in addition to weekly visits to the WCC campus for more formal training on the specific needs of the veteran. “Training was in progress 24/7 at home and in public,” he said. “It’s critical that the dogs be ready to be on duty both at home and while in public.”
Abell got a firsthand look at just how important this program is when he met a recipient of a service dog. The veteran, said Abell, returned from Iraq and barely slept more than an hour a day—he never even left his house. “But he stood there with his dog and said the very first day they were together, he slept eight hours straight—and he’d traveled to Maryland for this event from his home in Michigan without an issue.” The dog, this man said, saved his life. “There is no other way my family can save a veteran’s life,” said Abell, “or impact their life so dramatically.”
“We try to instill in our kids the importance of giving back to the community, and we’re a military family,” said Abell. “This was the perfect combination of the two. It’s so easy to give back—so we do.
And it only works with volunteers like Abell—families volunteering to train the dog and work with professional trainers. But the most important aspect, of course, are the people who this program helps. “It was tougher than I thought, and it was so hard for me and my family to hand Clarke over,” Abell admitted. “But it’s not about me. It’s about the vets who are in terrible need—and this will save someone’s life. Guaranteed. That’s all anyone needs to think about.”