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Every spring, ADW client-assistance dog pairs finish up client placement trainings ahead of ADW’s annual graduation (Tuesday, May 3d this year. Get tickets here!) This marks the time, as ADW founder-program director Jill Felice explains, when individualized lessons apply. It’s also when ADW’s professional trainers work closely with graduating teams to refine individualized behaviors specific to every individual animal-human pair.

Norm Landry was one of ADW’s first WCC™ program participants, joining the Monday classes back in August 2014 when the program in Albuquerque began.

ADW delivers a pilot program of “Canine Connection Therapy,” a curriculum innovated by the national WCC™ at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence. ADW is the only U.S. assistance-dog agency to specifically deliver that curriculum to military veterans, who are referred to the classes by Second Judicial District Veterans’ Court in Albuquerque.

ADW’s WCC™ class size has grown from four participants in the first cohort, to almost 20 in the fourth one, which recently started.

Jill Felice explains that by early March, Landry and Yahtzee had already tested successfully out of their final – and that her job at that point became to determine what individual refinements might still be missing from the dog’s vocabulary.

For Landry and Yahtzee, this last issue involved teaching Yahtzee to pick up his cane indoors. The object can be tough for assistance dogs to understand because of its weight and slipperiness, Felice says.

Landry at ADW’s offices in early March also expressed his wish to get another set of eyes onto his public access work with Yahtzee.

The two set off inside a Santa Fe ranch-supply store with plenty of potential distractions in sight, from 50-lb. bags of dog feed to dozens of live baby chicks. Instructor/trainer Penny Ryan walks just slightly behind them, encouraging Landry to set the pace and keep Yahtzee’s attention. The pair performs exceptionally, even when Landry pauses, feeling a bit breathless after unexpectedly encountering two strangers at the end of one aisle.

“Get her attention on you,” Penny Ryan urges. Yahtzee gazes up at Landry, the dog’s eyes fixed on his face.

For Landry, graduating with Yahtzee this year is a meaningful reinforcement of what he says WCC™ has done for his confidence and for his sense of community achieved through bonding with fellow veterans.

“We realized that through the dogs, we can communicate with each other,” Landry says. “We started supporting each other.”

Yahtzee has proven especially intuitive, says Landry, in knowing when he needs for her to set the pace, emotionally speaking.

“When I’m upset, Yahtzee parks,” he says. He elaborates that the dog’s recognition to stay still gives him time to focus on his equilibrium and re-charge emotionally.

2016 graduation will see Norm Landry taking the stage with Yahtzee, and his colleague from WCC™ Luis Sandoval graduating with Hamlet.

We at ADW are bursting with pride for them!

Penny Ryan demonstrates how to keep Yahtzee's attention and turn her in small circles

Penny Ryan demonstrates how to keep Yahtzee’s attention and turn her in small circles