2019  HIKING, ULTRA-WALKING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

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   SUMMARY OF TWO VOLUNTEER TRIPS TO   
THE WARRIOR CANINE CONNECTION'S
SERVICE DOG HEALING QUARTERS

TUESDAY, AUGUST 6

 
"We came for the puppies; we stayed for the mission."  
~ Motto for the Warrior Canine Connection's "Extreme Puppy Watchers" (EPWs)
 
 
Last November I first mentioned Warrior Canine Connection (WCC) in an entry about potential volunteer work that I was interested in doing.

WCC combines Jim's military service and our love of Labrador retrievers -- veterans helping to raise and train service dogs for other veterans who were disabled while serving our country.


Photo from Warrior Canine Connection's website home page

My involvement with WCC began more than a year ago when Becky, one of my local Lab friends, introduced me to the live service dog cameras on Explore.org, an addictive (in a good way!) website with a wide variety of live nature cameras all over the globe.

Becky has been a volunteer live cam operator with Explore for several years, handling service and guide dog cameras. She raised three puppies for the Guide Dog Foundation, has raised/trained several of her own Labs and other breeds (one of her current female Labs was sired by WCC Rogue), and was aware of our military connection. She knew WCC would be a good fit for us.


Part of WCC Dawn's Remembrance Litter of Golden retrievers in a close-up on the live cam (7-14-19)

Since I began watching Warrior Canine Connection's five live cameras I've put the "E" (extreme) in EPW!

I simply can't get enough of the adorable little Lab and golden retriever litters whelped in the Puppy Enrichment Center at WCC, where they are introduced to new sensory stimuli almost from the day they are born in an effort to start them off early in life to become the best service dogs ever.

Toys and other objects with a variety of textures, sounds, and scents are rotated at least twice daily in the whelping box, nursery, and playroom, all carefully chosen for the age of the puppies.


WCC Elaine's week-old Freedom Litter of ten Lab puppies could feel fabric textures and a cooking  
spoon in the whelping box on this day; Miss Orange (collar) is under mama's back leg. (5-6-19)

There are cameras in three of the rooms inside the puppy trailer, one on an outside deck where the puppies play in nice weather after they are about five weeks old, and one showing the large fenced corral where older service dogs in training can run free.

Much of the time the cameras are live; sometimes one or more are on highlights from previous tapings.

I'm certainly not the only one who's been drawn to Warrior Canine Connection's admirable mission of serving veterans because of these live cams. It's a very smart way to gain supporters.


"OK, class, listen up," Dawn seems to be saying to her little cherubs in the nursery. Actually this
litter of eight Goldens was more calm on camera and in person than Elaine's ten Labs. (7-6-19)

Ironically, several of the screen shots of puppies from the live cams that I showed in my November 7, 2018 entry were litters born last year to WCC Elaine and WCC Dawn -- the two mamas whose most recent litters were on-site during my first visit to WCC's campus! I just realized that.

This entry is four pages long and chock-full of puppy pictures. The first page is an introduction to the organization. The second page focuses on our first visit to WCC in June. The last two pages have lots of photos from my July visit and addendums about subsequent litters in late summer/early fall.

THE HEALING POWER OF DOGS

Warrior Canine Connection was created in August, 2011 to expand founder Rick Yount's vision of providing a safe, effective, non-pharmaceutical intervention -- training service dogs -- to treat veterans' symptoms of PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) sustained during their military service.

Once trained and certified, the dogs are then matched at no cost with their "furever" veterans, men and women who are disabled from injuries sustained during their military service.

It's wounded warriors helping other wounded warriors, and we love this mission.

Above and below:  Puppy therapy! Jim (US Army, retired) looks so happy while 
holding two of Dawn's 4-week-old puppies inside and outside the puppy trailer. (6-26-19)

Not all the puppies choose to become service dogs after two years of specialized training. Other important careers include facility support/therapy work at veterans' hospitals and treatment centers, military family support, ambassador work to raise awareness and funds (this is a non-profit organization), and/or part of the breeding colony to ensure there are more puppies for more veterans.

Since Warrior Canine Connection was founded eight years ago, twenty-nine litters of puppies have been born, with varying numbers of pups in each litter.

I've seen twelve different litters since I started watching the live cams in June of 2018. WCC has grown substantially in a short time!


Ann's All-American Litter of six puppies a day after their birth last summer; the puppies wear
rick-rack collars for the first six or seven days, then get cute little real collars.  (8-23-18)

There was a "dry spell" between December, 2018 and May, 2019 when no puppies were born and there were only highlights from previous litters on the Explore cams for about three months.

Many puppy-watchers tuned in to other service dogs organizations' live cams on Explore during that time, but for me it just wasn't the same.

PUPPYPALOOZA!

They've certainly made up for it since then! 2018 has been a banner year for WCC, with six litters born between May and August and more anticipated before the end of the year. I think the maximum number of pups in the puppy center at any one time this summer has been twenty-eight, from four litters, tying the organization's previous record high.

I was privileged to be able to see and assist with several of those litters in two visits to WCC's headquarters (called "healing quarters") in June and July.


WCC Elaine (L) and Dawn catch some zzzz's at my feet during my first day volunteering at WCC.
They are very attentive moms. Both have had one previous litter so they are experienced. (6-24-19)

As with other successful service and guide dog organizations I've researched, WCC's dogs are "purpose-bred" for temperament, health, and longevity to increase the odds that they will have what it takes to become a top-notch service dog. 

WCC researches back at least twelve generations of each dam's and sire's pedigree before dogs are matched with each other and bred. Already-successful service dogs are most likely to beget more successful service dogs.

It's an expensive two-year process of raising and training guide and service dogs and the concept of breeding for that purpose ensures the highest rate of success. WCC estimates that it costs about $35,000 to raise and train one service dog. Fortunately, that includes a lot of volunteer time or they'd be broke! I've seen estimates from other organizations of up to $50,000 to raise and train a guide dog for a blind person.

Most of the dogs WCC breeds and trains are Labrador retrievers. Some are Golden retrievers, and one of the litters born most recently is this organization's first "cross" litter -- the dam is a Lab and the sire is a Golden retriever. All three combinations can be excellent service and guide dogs.


WCC Megan (L) and WCC Cooper were successfully bred in June, resulting in
Warrior Canine's first litter of Labrador + Golden retriever puppies AKA goldadors.

WCC is part of a larger breeding cooperative that shares puppies and dogs to increase genetic diversity.

Most of the dams who whelp at WCC are this organization's own dogs or ones they acquired from another service dog organization as a puppy, often their pick-of-the-litter when one of WCC's boys is the sire for another organization's dam.

WCC usually doesn't keep all the puppies from a litter unless both the sire and dam are theirs. If another organization like Susquehana Service Dogs or Southeastern Guide Dogs provides the sire, at least one puppy whelped at WCC will most likely be given to the sire's organization.


WCC Dawn's Miss Pink AKA Tuffy went to Southeastern Guide Dogs in Florida; the sire 
of the Remembrance Litter, Moose, is from SEGD, and sweet Tuffy was their pick. (7-26-19)

Or if one of WCC's boys like Troy or Cooper sire a litter at another organization, WCC will likely get one of more puppies from that litter.

There are all sorts of cooperative breeding arrangements among the guide and service dog programs.

One of the more unique ones occurred this summer, when Guide Dog Foundation bred two of its dogs and simply didn't have enough space for all the litters that were born around the same time. WCC let the dam, Skye, whelp at its facility, provided for Skye and her seven puppies for about nine weeks, and kept four of the pups.


Skye and her eight-day-old puppies  (7-2-19)

NAMESAKES & LITTER NAMES: HONORING VETERANS

In addition to the very meaningful mission of warriors helping warriors, there are some other things WCC does that I really, really like.

One is to name each puppy for a veteran who honorably served our country.

Some are still alive and some died in combat. Most are not well-known but their legacy lives on in these puppies who grow up to serve in a different way. And Alyssa, one of the staff members, always includes several paragraphs of interesting information about the namesake on the WCC Facebook page with each name announcement.

I have a ton of respect for WCC honoring veterans in this way. Each service and guide dog organization chooses how to name its puppies. Some charge fees as a way to raise money but WCC doesn't do that.

Most of the litter names also have military significance, like Honor, Valor, Freedom, Remembrance, Legacy, Band of Brothers, Aim High, and Courage.

The four puppies from Skye's litter that WCC has kept are known as the Operation Overlord Litter, with names of four veterans who are still alive. Cool!

Another thing I really like is all the social media publicity WCC's puppies and dogs get on Facebook and Instagram.

Jim and I were late -- very late -- adopters of Facebook. Jim got a FB account last spring or summer (2018) because it was the best way to keep up with the foot races he wanted to do. Race directors and ultra runners aren't using the internet ultra listserve like they used to because they can do so much more on FB, such as post pictures. And there's little social interaction on race websites.

I got FB and Instagram accounts in August, 2018 simply so I could keep up with the pups and dogs at Warrior Canine Connection! The organization has a FB page, the EPW group has a page, each litter has a page, and many of the puppies and breeder dogs get a page if their Puppy Parent, Breeder Host, or Furever Veteran wants to post their pictures and adventures.


One of the best individual FB pages is for WCC Frank(ie), whose puppy mom posts photos and 
anecdotes about him every night as if written by this precocious, photogenic Golden retriever.

That's a lot more WCC-related Facebook and Instagram pages than I can keep up with -- and I'm retired, with extra time on my hands -- but it's a fabulous way to keep up with these amazing puppies and dogs.

And did I mention that I just love to watch the puppies on the Explore live cams???

That's as much of a time-suck as Facebook and Instagram, but it makes me happy so it's well worth it.

WE CAME FOR THE PUPPIES, WE STAYED FOR THE MISSION

Now, the problem with our becoming as involved with Warrior Canine Connection as we'd like to be is the fact that its main campus is in Maryland, a whopping 12-hour drive from our home in Peachtree City, Georgia. That's if there aren't any wrecks slowing traffic down.

If we lived close I'd be there volunteering with puppies at least once a week and I would want to be a Puppy Parent.

WCC does have small "branches" at medical and legal treatment facilities in California, Colorado, and North Carolina but even the one in Asheville, NC is still too far for us to make trips there to volunteer regularly or to help raise a puppy.


Five of Dawn's Golden retrievers in the Remembrance Litter during my first visit in June (6-26-19)

Jim and I both applied to be official volunteers with WCC anyway.

Maybe someday there will be a location close enough for us to volunteer on-site regularly or to socialize and train a puppy. At the rate WCC is growing, maybe they'll eventually have a site within two hours of us. Fingers crossed!

Meanwhile, I drove up to Maryland twice this summer for four days each time to do what I could to help while they had so many puppies and to learn more about the organization. Jim was also on campus for one of those days.

Many of the photos on this page are from my first trip to WCC in late June.

I was on campus for four to nine hours from Monday to Thursday during that visit. I requested a variety of experiences and Sarah, the volunteer coordinator, arranged for several different jobs with the younger puppies in the puppy center and the older pups in the kennel. I was also able to observe parts of two training sessions, one with younger pups and another with older ones.


When the weather is nice, training sessions are sometimes held outside.  (6-25-19)

Since 2015 WCC has been leasing a former dairy farm from the state of Maryland. It is on 35 acres of beautiful rolling terrain adjacent to a large natural recreation area with hiking and cycling trails.

Volunteers describe it as their "happy place" and I felt that each time I drove back the long access driveway between fields of corn to the campus:

There are several buildings on the property.

The founder and his family live in the two-story house and there are some offices for staff in the basement. A three-car garage has been remodeled into the kennel for the older service dogs in training. A large fenced corral and two smaller ones are behind the kennel for the dogs to exercise.

 

Two trailers have been added on the other side of the driveway and parking area, one for staff offices and a larger double-wide next door for the Puppy Enrichment Center.

In front of the trailers is a nice shaded wooden deck for the puppies and a fenced "Mom Yard" where the moms and/or pups can enjoy a safe grassy area outside.


Only part of the Puppy Enrichment Center is shown on the right; there are two exterior doors.  (6-25-19)


Grassy area for moms and/or pups in foreground, shaded wooden deck in background (6-25-19)

Behind the trailers are some storage sheds, a building that houses mowers and other equipment, and two old dairy barns.

Sarah gave Jim, another volunteer who was visiting from Canada, and me a good tour of the largest barn, which is in the initial stages of being renovated into a modern facility that will house most or all of WCC's puppy-raising and training operations in one building when completed.

 

WCC is poised for growth but just doesn't have the room for more new litters or more older pups in advanced training. I know the growing pains are frustrating for staff. They could do so much more, and for more veterans, if they had the space, staff, and equipment to do it.

For more information about renovation plans, go to this link. There is also a link for a time-lapse construction camera.

Continued on the next page:  activities on our first visit in June + lots of puppy pictures

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, and Holly-Pup

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2019 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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