This Is Carolina: Elite military dogs come to aid of ‘wounded warriors’

Published on WMBF News on March 21, 2018
By Meredith Helline, Anchor

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Last week, WMBF aired a special This Is Carolina about a local charity called SOWW, which stands for Special Operations Wounded Warriors.

SOWW members and hunters take part annually in a hog hunt called Takin Bacon. It happens under the radar.

Part one looked at Takin Bacon 2018 and how SOWW made a difference for one retired Army Ranger when the group gave him a new military service dog that will change his life.

This week’s part two took a deeper look at how that surprise came to be.

SOWW is beginning a new chapter of this canine charity. It was inspired locally by an American war hero and led to a partnership with a Canadian-based elite canine training company, Baden K-9.

A few days before the Takin Bacon weekend event, WMBF News was invited to a SOWW board member’s home, where other board members and charity benefactors were gathering for a day of food, music and camaraderie before the big event.

“We lose 22 of these guys a day and that number rings in my head constantly,” said Jud Kuhn, a SOWW board member and Horry County businessman. “This is a battle that’s going to take many, many, many of us to do.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder and military suicides are battles the SOWW charity is fighting with a new weapon. It was inspired by a chance encounter between Kuhn and a veteran named Josh.

“I met a gentleman that was a double amputee Green Beret that was a dog handler,” Kuhn said. “He had a Malinois named Archie. Archie was a very impressive dog, very intense when he was told to be intense. Well, then Josh and I ended up having a relationship and decided we would start the dog program.”

A friendship blossomed and so did a life-changing commitment when that happened.

“Our goal is, let’s not do 22 deaths a day. Let’s get it down to 18; let’s get down to 14, 12,” Kuhn said. “I really believe these experiences with these canines will lower that number. I really believe that in my heart.”

Just as quickly as the race to find an Archie for every veteran began, Josh’s battle with PTSD came to an end. Unexpectedly, he became one of the 22.

“That’s what fueled me. I said, ‘OK, Josh was gone,’” Kuhn said. “So I sat around one night and I wrote down Josh, and I wrote down Joining Obedience Shepherds with Heroes … and I decided that’s what we’re going to do.”

Just like that, SOWW’s partnership with Baden K-9 began.

“One of the best things about having a battle dog, a military working dog, a dog like this, is it actually forces you to re-sharpen,” said Kevin Whitenect, a military contractor. “He must become sharp and remain sharp in his awareness of his environment, how he communicates and moves in his environment, or the dogs are going to control everything.”

After 17 years of military and special operations service in the Canadian Armed Forces, Whitenect is now a military contractor who uses his dog, Callie, as an example of what Baden K-9 is doing for SOWW.

“A typical day with Callie is a day of training in preparation for operations,” he said. “The operation could be this, coming here to SOWW to hang out with operators, do some demos, give them some education on family protection dogs or military working dogs. That could be the operation, or the operation could be punching into northwest Mosul on the last punch against ISIS.”

Callie is a demonstration dog, and Kuhn uses his Baden K-9 trained dog as the same. The canines are introduced to veterans at SOWW events.

Highly trained and skilled like its operator, each Baden canine can be like Callie. Or, the animal can serve as a service and high-end family obedience and protection dog. The dogs are also capable of doing all of the above.

“Dogs can travel with the family, whether that be on airlines, buses, restaurants, shopping. But we are here to support, you know, if a veteran’s family wants a puppy and that is going to bring support to the family and children. We are here for puppies,” Perry said.

Dogs aren’t only donated to veterans, but also active duty members who will be deployed.

“Not just the PTSD, but there’s warriors out there that while they are deployed – and the family is at home – that is a concern for them while they are deployed, and the protection dog is at home watching over their most valuable assets, which is their wife and children,” Perry said. “That enables them to operate more effectively and more peacefully.”

Baden K-9 is Canadian-based. It’s a decades-old family- and veteran-owned and operated company, with every dog from German bloodlines.

“My father and where the foundation of where the company came from, we don’t look for a specific look. We are looking for a capability. Where the retriever used to retrieve and that was tested on its capability, now it’s tested on its look,” Perry said.

Perry said whatever the SOWW veteran wants out of the dog, he gets.

“It varies on the need,” Perry said. “If they are looking for a trained, a fully-trained dog can be anywhere from 10 to 13, 14 months.”

Training doesn’t happen overnight, and the wait list is long.

“There is a lot of veterans out there waiting,” Perry said. “I’ve spoke to veterans before…they’ve been waiting a couple of years to get a dog. You know two minutes is a long time; two years is a very long time. How does a dog go to places that medicine and men can’t?”

Whitenect may have some of that answer.

“The greatest thing that a dog can do for the warrior is it forces him to reconnect with other human beings,” he said. “One of the greatest challenges for warriors that are suffering from emotional distress of combat, physical trauma or combat brain trauma is isolation. They get isolated from their teams, their units, unfortunately, and then begin to isolate themselves, by choice, mostly by choice, from their families, from their friends. So for me it was a re-sharpening and a re-edging of myself as a knife, which is really what all warriors fear the most is becoming dull and no longer being dangerous.”

So one by one, SOWW and Baden K-9 are slowly chipping away at the number 22, with Josh’s memory in mind, finding ways to fight the clock and get more of these dogs into the hands of active special operations members as well as veterans.

The goal is for SOWW to keep growing its partnerships to be able to integrate more of the dogs into veterans’ lives and make a difference.