MENLO PARK (KPIX 5) — This week’s Jefferson Award winner runs a unique program that pairs veterans with service dogs. Friendship doesn’t begin to describe their special relationship.
Cavitt, Sandy and Ford, are three Golden Retrievers on a special mission. They’re being trained to become service dogs for veterans.
But what makes this program unique is that it’s military men and women who are doing the training.
It is part of their therapy.
From post-traumatic stress, to traumatic brain injury, wounded warriors find healing and purpose in training these dogs to help others.
“What we find is that they might not be willing to do something for themselves, but they would crawl through fire for another veteran or another service member,” said Cate Dorr.
Cate opened the West Coast office of the Warrior Canine Connection. From her office at the Menlo Park Veteran’s Administration, Cate is a one-woman powerhouse.
She gives local veterans what she calls “canine therapy,” as she trains them to be trainers.
“The same skills they practice with the dogs, they are practicing in their own lives as well,” Cate said.
Skills such as patience, impulse control, positive communication were all needed to train Ford to open the refrigerator.
A sequence of obstacles helps reinforce short-term memory skills.
Cate even plans field trips so both trainer and trainee have to deal in real-life situations.
“You can’t isolate when you have a golden retriever,” Cate explained. “You have to work on anger management, emotional regulation. You have to do social interactions.”
Over the course of two years, the dogs will learn 80-90 commands. And at that point, they will be ready to graduate and become a full-time service dog.
But between now and then, they will touch the lives of hundreds of veterans.
John Tyson has been a Warrior trainer for seven months. After two tours in Iraq, he returned struggling with anxiety and depression.
He said working with Cate’s dogs has been the best medicine.
“Sometimes when you are coming from a place where I did, you don’t feel good about yourself,” John explained. “It’s almost like you can’t love yourself, and they love you till you can love yourself.
John says it used to be difficult getting out bed most mornings.
Now he’s training other veterans to help prepare these dogs for someone who needs them more.
“When you think why most people join the military, it’s to help other people. So this is an opportunity for them to re-engage in that mission of service,” Cate said.
With a master’s degree in occupational therapy and a background in dog training, Cate says this is the perfect avenue for her to give back.
“My grandfather was a World War II paratrooper,” Cate said. “I always loved the idea of being able to give back to the veteran population and community.”
So for bringing this non-traditional life-changing canine therapy to the Bay Area, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Cate Dorr.
When Cate’s dogs aren’t at the VA being trained, they need people to help raise them and house them. If you would like to get involved or support the Canine Warrior Connection, visit www.warriorcanineconnection.com.