NewsVoice for Veterans


Veterans train service dogs for wounded warriors in Baltimore City courtroom

Posted at 6:29 AM, Nov 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-01 07:14:11-04

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — It’s an unusual place to train dogs but in a Baltimore City courtroom, it’s serving a deeper purpose.

“It is a wonderful thing to watch. I think it’s therapeutic for the veterans,” said Baltimore City District Judge Halee Weinstein.

Warrior Canine Connection enlists recovering veterans to train service dogs for wounded warriors, partnering with programs like the Baltimore City Veterans Treatment Court.

Weinstein, a veteran herself, created VTC in 2015 as a court supervised, voluntary treatment-based program for veterans charged with misdemeanors.

“The idea is that although you are holding the person responsible for their criminal behavior, you’re also providing and coordinating wrap around services to help them address their substance use disorder or mental health diagnosis, housing issues, employment issues,” said Weinstein. “When you’re in the military, basically all your needs are met; you receive a salary, you receive a place to live, you can eat, you don’t have to worry about food insecurity, you have structure in your life. Then you get out of the military, all of that is gone and it’s a very hard adjustment for a lot of people.”

Army veteran Michael Whitson has been in the program for about six months.

“I was given the opportunity to choose this. I didn’t know it existed and I’m just grateful,” said Whitson. “It’s an alternative to regular criminal court where they focus on punishment and the veterans court focuses on getting veterans the help they need and rehabilitation so it wasn’t a hard decision.”

When he learned dog training was an option for the community service requirement, he jumped at the chance. He worked with K-9s during his time in the 95 Bravo Military Police.

“I basically was a chew toy. I put on the bite suit and let them work out their aggression on me so in the military I had the ability to help train dogs to go after the bad guys and for the Warrior Canine Connection, I have the ability to train dogs to help the good guys,” said Whitson.

Once a month, the vets work with the dogs and Warrior Canine Connection trainers to reinforce basic commands and develop new skills using a mission-based trauma recovery model. When their training is complete, the dogs are matching with veterans who have sustained physical or psychological wounds while serving our country.

Not only are they helping train the dogs but they are doing something for themselves. The training happens right before they go before Judge Weinstein for a status hearing.

“Coming into the courtroom can be anxiety producing but when they are working with the dogs, they don’t have any anxiety. They are enjoying what they are doing. They feel they are doing something purposeful,” said Weinstein.

VTC also partners with groups to help veterans get the skills and services needed to re-enter civilian life and each participant is matched with a veteran mentor for additional support. Most veterans are in the program for a year.