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Stories of Healing

Warrior Canine Connection Looks Back at 2014

Dear Friends and Supporters,
Sitting down to write this letter has been a great joy, because it has allowed me to reflect on a remarkable year for Warrior Canine Connection. In thinking about what has made 2014 so special, one theme keeps coming up: the stories in which we have been privileged to play a part.

Stories of courage, and obstacles overcome.
Stories of hopelessness transformed into optimism.
Stories of lives, minds, and families healed – one dog at a time.
I’d like to share just a few of those stories with you.

“Everywhere I go, he can go with me.”
Jason and Indy’s Story

Army Captain Jason Pak is a natural leader. A 2012 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he rose rapidly through the ranks and after just one month of deployment to Afghanistan was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
Two short months after arriving, Jason was leading a dismounted patrol in Panjwai,  Southern Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. The explosion cost him both of his legs and two fingers…but it could not rob him of his positive spirit.
After nearly two years of recovering through grueling work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Jason learned about Warrior Canine Connection from a friend. Then Jason met Indy, and it was, as he says, “love at first sight.” The two became inseparable, training and living together, and graduated as a permanent team in October of this year.
Indy helps Jason in numerous ways – by serving as a brace for stability, retrieving items, and increasing Jason’s mobility as he throws himself back into life – including plans to attend graduate school. Their partnership is truly one of mutual love and respect. As Jason sums it up: “He’s kind of my best friend.”

“Last year, when we walked across this stage, we were given a
miracle. Her name is Cadence."

The Foliente Family and Cadence’s Story

At our October 2014 graduation, we were honored to hear from Cristina Foliente, wife of Staff SGT Rodney Foliente (USA,Ret.), who received Military Family Support Dog Cadence in 2013. The following describes, in Cristina's eloquent words, how Cadence has changed the Foliente family's story.

"Cadence was lovingly trained by so many for a mission. And that mission was us. For war affects not only the Warrior, but the family as well. And by last year, our way had become dark. 

"Some wounds are visible, but some are not. What if traumatic brain injury has stolen parts of who you are? Or PTSD mocks your character by briefly inserting a madman or a zombie at any given trigger? What if children really don't understand who this sometimes stranger is, who looks like their daddy, but laughs less, and loses patience more?

"Those who love a wounded Warrior might wonder sometimes when, or if, their Warrior will ever truly be home. But for us and for so many others, there were people with vision, dedication, and trust in a dog's ability to see and help those with both visible and invisible wounds.

"In this year together, we have seen frustration intercepted. Nightmares averted. Anger redirected. Triggers conquered. Sleep attained. Apathy vanquished. Social ties reconnected. Laughter, focus, comfort, joy and peace returned.

"Positive training fosters positive attitude. Our war is not over, but through the selfless and undying devotion, hard work and loyalty that Cadence gives our family, we are continuing to heal together. And it is a wondrous thing."

“I’ve been able to connect with my family in ways I never have before.”
Tommy and Sam’s Story

When you’re well over six feet tall, and a Coast Guard Lieutenant to boot, you’re the one who rescues people. You’re not the one who needs rescuing. 

Tommy Faulkenberry deployed 11 times, serving all over the world and to every U.S. state bordered by an ocean. During his deployments – which typically involved life endangering search-and-rescue and diving operations
– he sustained physical and psychological injuries.

While a hero many times over, LT Faulkenberry’s actions left him with undiagnosed PTSD – and during his 5th and 6th deployment diving tours, he was diagnosed with a very rare form of malignant hyperthermia/muscular dystrophy that causes chronic, debilitating pain.
Treatment took him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he learned about Warrior Canine Connection. It did not take long before he became actively involved in training dogs for other Service Members, and started feeling his own depression lifting. Then he met Sam, and everything started to fall into place. In October, Sam and Tommy graduated as a team, and Sam took his place at the center of the Faulkenberry family.

Tommy tells us that Sam has helped him reconnect with people – especially his family – and to refocus on his leadership potential. Sam also helps Tommy cope with anxiety, depression, pain and muscle episodes. Sam, Tommy says, brings calm to his family of four active boys. He’s also brought out a natural talent for dog training that Tommy is looking forward to sharing with other Warriors.
You are a part of these stories.
As profound as these three stories are, they merely scratch the surface. We’ve seen so many victories this year. Marriages that were floundering are on the mend. Men and women who refused to open up to anyone are actively engaging with others. They’re going grocery shopping, and on outings to museums and other public places. Instead of staying awake all night, on guard, they are sleeping. Families feel calm, happy and normal again. You helped to make that happen.
We have big plans for 2015. First and foremost, we will continue our efforts to establish Canine Connection Therapy as an evidence-based treatment for the invisible wounds of war and to set the standard of care for this animal assisted therapy. We plan to grow our dog-breeding program, to expand to new training and treatment locations, and of course to relocate our operations to our new Healing Quarters in Germantown, MD.

There are so many people we would like to thank – who believe in our mission and help us make it a reality. There are military and civilian government officials. DOD and VA medical providers, and military and veterans organizations. There are foundations, and businesses, and individuals. There are schools and community organizations. There are countless volunteers. There are organizers of independent fundraisers and extreme puppy watchers from who live all around the world.

Most of you may never be able to experience, first hand, the profound impact that a dog can have on a Service Member or Veteran who struggles just to get out of bed in the morning. But you help to make that happen every day. As you look at your year-end giving, and ahead to your giving plans for 2015, we hope that you will continue to partner with us.
Have a Peaceful and Happy Holiday Season,
Rick Yount, Founder and Executive Director
…and From the Entire Warrior Canine Connection Family

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