Just before Christmas, a packed event was held in Washington, D.C., to honor veterans and celebrate the holiday season while featuring an organization dedicated to veteran rehabilitation.
This year, the third annual edition of the private event called “Holiday Cocktails & Songs of the Season” highlighted the Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), a nonprofit that works with veterans to train service dogs who can then serve other veterans.
WCC, founded in 2011, has worked with more than 4,000 veterans to train service dogs and permanently placed at least 72 dogs, WJLA reported last month.
WCC founder Rick Yount spoke about the organization and the role of dog training therapy in rehabilitating veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Yount, a licensed social worker of 30 years, helped establish a dog training therapy program at both Walter Reed and the National Intrepid Center for Excellence.
Two service dogs were also in attendance to serve as ambassadors for the organization, and to highlight the significance of animals in their connection with humans and their role in healing veterans.
One of the service dogs present was Sully, a 7-month-old puppy – the same name as the “Sully” who previously served the late former President George H.W. Bush. Both dogs are named after the famed pilot Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III known for his Hudson River landing.
Veterans work with WCC to train Labradors like Sully, along with Golden Retrievers, before they are permanently placed in service with a veteran.
The Sully who served the late President Bush now serves veterans in the dog therapy program at Walter Reed.
Dr. Robert Koffman, a leading Navy psychiatrist and specialist in traumatic brain injuries, was one of the notable figures at the event.
Koffman serves as an advisor to WCC, and he is also a behavioral health and integrative medicine consultant at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence. He received the U.S. Special Operations Patriot Award in 2013 for his psychological treatment expertise.
At the event, Koffman described how service dogs are capable of stimulating responses in humans, even in vegetative states. He credits a service dog for saving the life of a soldier who remained in a semi-vegetative state for three years.
“Just having a dog comforting you is allowing veterans to sleep through the night for the first time in sometimes years,” Yount told WJLA last month. “The dogs can reach and connect with veterans in ways that sometimes people just can’t.”
Kevin Corke, White House Correspondent for the Fox News Network, hosted the event. Fox News’ Brett Baer was able to meet the service dogs following the event. Other media figures included Erin Como of Fox5 and Debra Alfarone of WUSA9.
Col. James Tierney (1st Battalion, 69th Army Regiment) led the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance alongside a massive Wolfhound. He also gave the Regimental Toast.
World-renowned tenor Anthony Kearns – who is known for performing for Presidents, Pope Francis I and Medal of Honor ceremonies, among other significant events – was also present to sing Christmas songs.