BOYDS, Md. – Dole is a fierce black Labrador and loves to be outside. He is a service dog in training and still in training.
“Well, he’s a bit stupid, which is probably why you compared him to me,” said retired US Air Force Col. John Bryk.
Col. Bryk is Dole’s trainer and has worked with him for almost a year.
“I started firing nuclear missiles in North Dakota,” said Col. Bryk. “A few years later I started Space Shuttles in Cocoa Beach, [Florida], and towards the end of my career I became a diplomat. “
However, after he retired, he felt that things were not quite right.
“It never occurred to me that I might have problems with PTSD,” he said. “I was examined by the VA and they said, ‘Hey, you know, you might want to consider this.'”
They suggested contacting the Warrior Canine Connection, a nonprofit service dog training center located on an 80-acre former Maryland dairy farm.
The dogs in training are ultimately compared to a wounded veteran, and the trainers are veterans themselves.
“We engage wounded warriors struggling with mental injuries mainly in the training of our dogs,” said founder Rick Yount.
As a licensed social worker, Yount had the idea for the Warrior Canine Connection 15 years ago. Since then, they have helped 5,000 veterans.
“It affected many, many people,” he said. “We call it Mission Based Trauma Recovery, and we’ve had hundreds of dogs involved in it too.”
Some of the dogs in the program that do not become service dogs will become breeder dogs. The resulting pups are finally evaluated to see if they are suitable as service dogs.
An online puppy cam allows people from all over the country to see what they’re up to anytime. When they get a little older, their training begins.
“These veterans give so much and sacrifice so much to their country,” said Sarah Delcore, who works with the veterans and dogs of the Warrior Canine Connection. “The least we can do is give them a tool to help them get on with life successfully.”
For Col. Bryk, his training time with Dole was coming to an end.
Then he got a surprise.
“I had an application for my own service dog the whole time. I came back for an interview about three weeks ago and the next day I got a call like, ‘Hey, we just have one more question for you.’ I’m like, ‘Okay what is it?’ And the question was, ‘Do you want to be matched with Dole?’ he said with a laugh.
Later this month, the two of them will have the chance to finally go home together.
In addition to Maryland, Warrior Canine Connection has training facilities in California and North Carolina. Their service dogs are placed with veterans across the country.