Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Facility Dogs Play a Vital Role in Recovery for Patients Across the MHS

Image of Luke is a German Shephard facility dog. Luke, a German Shepherd facility dog at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, stays with wounded warrior Heath T. Calhoun at the Military Advanced Treatment Center facility while Calhoun undergoes rehab therapy. Luke is officially a Navy Hospital Corpsman Third Class.

Recommended Content:

Our History | Health Readiness & Combat Support

The Defense Department's first facility dog program began back in 2005, when then-Army Sgt. Harvey Naranjo saw the positive impact that man's best friend can have on troubled soldiers.

Naranjo was working with injured Special Forces warfighters in a therapeutic horse riding program. He was struck by how the wounded warriors interacted with the stable dogs.

"These tough guys, who have gone through traumatic injuries, amputations, and had been shot – all of a sudden I see them rolling around on the floor, baby talking to the dogs, and I saw them put their guard down," Naranjo recalled.

He could see a "true personality emerge from the very reserved service members for the first time."

"I thought of how much more I could do for them if I had a dog," said Naranjo, who now runs the adaptive sports program for the Occupational Therapy Department at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

At the time, Naranjo mentioned this observation to a hospital volunteer, who soon sent him a chocolate Lab named Deuce.

"And before I knew it, there was a dog in the clinic," Naranjo said.

Since then, the facility dog program at Walter Reed has grown and the concept has spread to other military medical treatment facilities.

Facility dogs can help patients with stress, depression, and anxiety. They provide distraction, unconditional love, and comfort, helping patients to recover or better cope with health problems. And they help to decompress staffs and patient families.

There are currently seven facility dogs at Walter Reed. All are highly trained by outside organizations and include Golden Retrievers, Labradors and one German Shepherd.

They are typically very busy.

Handlers say that for every hour the dogs work, they have a positive impact on 12 patients and their families. On average, these dogs work over 200 hours per month, collectively, and have contact with 2,500 people.

Before COVID-19, five to seven inpatients specifically requested a facility dog (therapy support dog) visit every day. Currently, the dogs are supporting staff, patients, and families in outpatient settings. (Handlers ensure the individual dogs' workdays are limited and that each canine gets plenty of rest.)

The dogs often fill an important role in the care of injured or ill service members or other patients who may have a long path of recovery, Naranjo said. "Our service members are missing their homes, and they're missing their families and their pets. This is like an extension of their pets," Naranjo said.

Walter Reed's Facility Dog Program

Today, the Facility Dog Program at WRNMMC includes Sully, a yellow Lab who was former President George H.W. Bush's service dog.

Each dog has his or her own rank, service, and uniform and is inducted in an enlistment or commissioning ceremony.

Each dog initially undergoes traditional service dog training with an accredited outside organization, which prepares them to be paired with a disabled service member or veteran to provide assistance with tasks and companionship. After that, the dogs at WRNMMC undergo additional training to become a "facility dog" who works in a clinical setting like a hospital.

Amy O'Connor and Patty Barry oversee the facility dog program at Walter Reed, and Naranjo is the program service dog patient Education & Referral liaison.

"I've had the privilege to be part of this program for over 15 years and have a wonderful group of handlers that are primarily active duty service members who do the handling of the dogs as a collateral duty. This program is truly nobody's job; we all give a little bit of ourselves to make it work," O'Connor said

"We try to switch them up in their daily duties," said Navy Hospital Corpsman Skylor Cervantes, the lead handler. "Different dogs can go to different areas, and different people can meet the different dogs, have different interactions with them because they all have their own unique personalities. Some of the dogs do work in specific locations, but they also get to visit other locations."

For example, children who have cancer tend to be at the medical center for a long time. "These dogs become part of their treatment plan, they become part of their family," O'Connor noted.

One area the dogs visit every day is the Military Advanced Treatment Center, where wounded warriors rehabilitate, O'Connor explained. Truman, a chocolate Lab with the rank of Army master sergeant, is the resident MATC dog, Naranjo said.

Additionally, the dogs work as part of community reintegration, Naranjo said, adding that some service members may develop anxiety about traveling after losing a limb.

"Having the dog with them plays a huge role in deflecting some of the stares that they may get from people or just their anxiety in general from accessing community again in a new body," Naranjo explained.

How Are Therapy Dogs Trained?

All the WRNMMC dogs are "purpose-bred and -trained to be service dogs for our wounded warriors. And in that process, they are trained for 18 to 24 months," O'Connor said.

"We don't stop learning and working to get better," O'Connor said. Each Walter Reed therapy dog handler goes through a training program, the Personnel Qualification Standard, to ensure confidence, consistency, and solid handling skills. It generally takes about six weeks of training with two to three hours a week of practice, she said.

At the end of the day, all facility dogs go home with their owner-handler, so it's a full-time commitment.

Program Growth

WRNMMC's therapy dogs program has been such a success that other military hospitals and clinics are following suit. These include

  • Naval Medical Center San Diego's LC and Cork, a golden Lab and black Lab, respectively
  • Brooke Army Medical Center-Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. It is getting a facility dog named Budd. A yellow Lab, Budd will be commissioned on June 6 as an Army major.
  • Madigan Army Medical Center has a new facility dog named Earl. The black Lab just started his mission with the Peer Support Program on May 16
  • The California Air National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing also has a facility therapy dog named Paige.

In the end, "facility dogs must be suited for the complex environment of a hospital with multiple interactions," O'Connor said.

"Facility dogs can interact with 100 people a day, and that's not suitable for all dogs. Some of these dogs wouldn't be happy with one wounded warrior. They seek the multiple interactions and have the energy for that."

You also may be interested in...

Medical readiness exercise provides real world humanitarian relief to local Moroccan population

Article Around MHS
7/11/2022
Medical readiness exercise provides real-world humanitarian relief to local Moroccan population

The Utah Army National Guard Medical Detachment, the U.S. Army 30th Medical Brigade, and the Royal Moroccan Army collaborated to provide real-world humanitarian assistance to the local population here while simultaneously conducting medical readiness training during African Lion 2022.

Recommended Content:

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief | Health Readiness & Combat Support

137th SOMDG Medical Personnel Conduct SPP Visit to Azerbaijan

Article Around MHS
7/8/2022
Military medical personnel conducting simulation

Members of the Air Force's 137th Special Operations Medical Group (SOMDG) traveled to Azerbaijan to conduct a combat casualty care knowledge exchange with Azerbaijan Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) Battalion doctors and medical noncommissioned officers during a State Partnership Program (SPP) visit to Baku, Azerbaijan in late June.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Wagging tails and smiling faces: Therapy dogs bring comfort to Medical Center staff

Article Around MHS
7/6/2022
Military personnel with support dog

Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune staff are receiving comfort and support from four-legged friends. For the past several months, Beasley the Basset Hound, has been making her rounds in her Red Cross volunteer vest, providing treats for humans in the form of pets and cuddles.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Psychological Fitness

Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Article
7/5/2022
Army Experts: Rabies Risk is Not Worth It

Almost 60,000 people around the world die from rabies each year. Despite the common belief that rabid animals are easily identified by foaming at the mouth and aggressive behavior, infected animals may not look sick or act strangely.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health | Rabies

Operational Readiness Training A Littoral Away for NMRTC Bremerton Corpsmen

Article Around MHS
7/5/2022
Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Don Wilwayco

NMRTC Bremerton has formed a unique partnership to help ensure there’s a ready medical force capable of supporting fleet mission – and medical - readiness.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Task Force Med Soldiers compete in Crusader Challenge during Kosovo deployment

Article Around MHS
7/1/2022
Military medical personnel in rescue drill

Army Soldiers with the 547th Medical Company (Area Support), 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade, participate in Crusader Challenge 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Provider Soldiers Learn Mental Health First Aid

Article Around MHS
6/30/2022
Military personnel in classroom

Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and members of the unit Soldier and Family Readiness Group, participated in the Mental Health First Aid training in Hinesville, Georgia

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Final Days in Afghanistan: Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

Article
6/30/2022
Final Days in Afghanistan Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

“Prior to the attack, teams were preparing to leave the area. Suddenly, everything changed, and our main goal shifted from COVID-19 support to blood supply and triage.”

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Beating the Stigma: Workhorse Battalion and H2F Team Up to Improve Physical Readiness

Article Around MHS
6/24/2022
Military personnel bench pressing

To help counter that stigma of being "broken", the 10th Division Sustainment Troops Battalion “Workhorse,” 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, and the brigade’s Holistic Health and Fitness team, also known as H2F, joined forces to create the Unbreakable Warrior program, also known as UBW.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Physical Fitness

Air Force Women's History: First Commissioned Female Physician

Article Around MHS
6/23/2022
Capt Dorothy Armstrong Elias sworn in

On March 14, 1951, Capt. (Dr.) Dorothy Armstrong Elias became the first woman physician sworn into the Air Force.

Recommended Content:

Our History

How Drones Will Transform Battlefield Medicine – and Save Lives

Article
6/23/2022
Drones carrying fresh blood products to wounded troops on the front lines may be critical for military medicine in a conflict against a "near-peer" adversary.

Emerging technology may use drones to deliver blood products for wounded troops on the front lines of combat. That capability may be critical in a "near-peer" conflict.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Four-legged Major Brings Joy to Brooke Army Medical Center

Article Around MHS
6/23/2022
Labrador facility dogs at ceremony

Brooke Army Medical Center commissioned a new, four-legged staff member with a penchant for spreading joy to the rank of United States Army major during a ceremony June 6.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Conditions and Treatments

How MHS GENESIS will become essential to patients' health journey

Article
6/21/2022
Dr. Robert Marshall, program director of the Department of Defense Clinical Informatics Fellowship at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Ensuring proper training of both providers and patients is essential for the successful integration and sustainment of MHS GENESIS into MHS care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Technology | MHS GENESIS Toolkit | Electronic Health Record: MHS GENESIS | MHS GENESIS

Army, Navy Public Health Officials Collect Weapon System-related Health Hazard Data in Support of Blast Overpressure Exposure Assessment

Article Around MHS
6/21/2022
Military personnel by M777 Howitzer

A team of scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army Public Health Center and the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center recently traveled to Fort Carson to conduct a Joint Service Member Occupational Health Assessment, also known as a JSOHA, of the M777 Howitzer—a weapon that is routinely used in military training and combat operations.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support

LRMC CNS Fuels Progression in Military Medicine

Article Around MHS
6/17/2022
military personnel in neonatal care class

Army Maj. Rebeccah Dindinger serves as a Clinical Nurse Specialists at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Women's Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 40
Refine your search
Last Updated: May 27, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.