Who let the dogs out and into the podcast studio?

Rick Yount has been involved in animal-assisted therapy for the past 22 years. He combined his social work knowledge and service dog training background to develop a novel intervention to help servicemembers who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Yount pioneered the first therapeutic service dog training program at the Palo Alto, Calif., Veterans Hospital in 2008. 

Now he is the executive director of Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), which provides service dogs to veterans like retired Sgt. First Class Joe Ouellette, who left the Army in 2022 and now lives in Maryland with his service dog, Wells. 

They are the special guests on this week’s episode of The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast.  

Yount’s first experience with dog-assisted therapy involved children who had been abused or neglected.

“It just worked, I never looked back,” he says. “I never saw anything as effective as a sweet, loving dog in helping someone through tough times.” 

Ouellette vouches for the effectiveness. He was connected to WCC by his father, an active American Legion member, soon after Ouellette retired. At first, he volunteered for the organization and eventually was connected with Wells, a yellow Labrador retriever. 

“I’ve been able to relax,” he explains. “I just sleep way better, having him around all the time is so calming. That’s the biggest thing for me — going to sleep. I’m more calm throughout the day, too.”

WCC works with Legion posts to support and host events to educate its members and their families about its programs and the impact service dogs can have on veterans. 

Yount added that it generally takes two years to match a veteran with an assistance dog. “We’re using the healing power of these dogs to help support our veterans,” he says. “If you are not sleeping, you are not healing.” 

His new program concept, involving veterans with PTSD in the training of mobility service dogs for fellow veterans, has yielded very positive results. He has presented the concept at forums including the VA National Mental Health Conference and the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. 

Also, co-hosts Stacy Pearsall and Adam Marr discuss:

• The history of guide dogs.

• A new documentary about a Marine veteran’s road trip with his brother that ended tragically in the Grand Canyon.

• A guitar program that helps veterans heal.

• A 57-year-old Navy admiral who knocked out 19 pullups during a Fleet Week challenge.

Check out this week’s episode, which is among more than 250 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.