By Margaret Hasken

LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — The puppies at Warrior Canine Connection are more than just a cute, fluffy face — they’re service dogs in training.

Warrior Canine Connection is a nonprofit service dog organization that provides therapeutic intervention a for service members in treatment for post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Jamie Williams, director of public relations for the Maryland-based organization, tells WNEW the live “puppy cam” on started two years ago.

WCC names each litter, with some recent ones named the “Honor Litter,” the “Valor Litter” and the most recent “Gratitude Litter” — born on Thanksgiving Day.

The program operates in four centers: Walter Reed National Medical Military Center, The National Intrepid Center of Excellence (a treatment facility for brain trauma and psychological health conditions at Walter Reed), Fort Belvoir in Alexandria, Va. and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Menlo Park, Calif.

During their training, each dog helps to heal the invisible wounds of approximately 60 recovering “Warrior Trainers.” Williams says the program provides recovering combat veterans with a sense of purpose while they are in treatment at Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities, and is designed to ease their symptoms of combat stress.

Tammy, a WCC puppy, started her full-time job on Tuesday at Walter Reed. She was named after Army Lt. Colonel Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War Veteran and former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Williams says they began the tradition of naming each dog after a service member or veteran in 2013 — adding that there’s a story behind each dog’s name.

“The original WCC dog named after a service member is Lundy, who came into the program in late 2012 and was named after a Navy Corpsman and close friend of Marshall Peters, one of the service dog trainers who works at Walter Reed in Bethesda,” Williams says. “Marshall’s friend HM3 Brian K Lundy Jr. was killed in action in the Autumn of 2011. Our Lundy has his own Facebook page, ‘WCC’s Lundy’ as do many of our other dogs.”

Williams says the puppies are trained for about two years before being permanently placed in a home as service dogs for veterans with disabilities. She says the puppies are socialized by hundreds of Warrior and civilian “puppy petters” to form strong connections with humans and to provide them with the foundation to become successful service dogs.

Many of the dogs go to work every day, Monday through Friday, with a certified training staff. Some of them accompany their “puppy raisers” to civilian jobs.

WCC uses the training of the dogs as a therapy for combat stress. Williams says service members with post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury address their symptoms, including isolation, emotional numbness and re-experiencing by helping to train a service dog for a “fellow Warrior.”

Williams says the training program is a nonpharmaceutical intervention that relieves stress in veterans and their families.

Williams adds that WCC is working with researchers at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and civilian academic institutions to conduct studies to measure the psychological, behavioral and biological effects of service dog training therapy on the symptoms of combat stress.

WCC service dogs-in-training are Golden and Labrador Retrievers that are specifically bred for health and temperament, and are nurtured to be emotionally stable and socially engaged.

WCC Executive Director Rick Yount created the first therapeutic service dog training program in 2008 in Northern California and has been serving recovering Warriors in the D.C. area since 2011.

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