Skip to main content

Military Health System

Important Notice about Pharmacy Operations

Change Healthcare Cyberattack Impact on MHS Pharmacy Operations. Read the statement to learn more. 

Ask a Dog: Inside the Life of a Walter Reed Facility Dog

Image of Ask a Dog: Inside the Life of a Walter Reed Facility Dog. One of the stars of the facility dog program is Corpsman Luke, named for Saint Luke, the patron saint of doctors. This energetic, 5-year-old German Shepherd is “spectacular,” according to his handler and “mom,” Amy O’Connor, the program’s project manager and a licensed social worker. (Credit: Janet A. Aker, MHS Communications)

When you’re in pain, need comfort, or just a reason to smile, time spent with a furry friend may be just what the doctor ordered.

The facility dog program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center offers all of this and more to their patients and staff. The program provides interactive care with innovative animal assisted interventions to reduce stress and increase overall feelings of well-being.

Facility dogs are trained to be service dogs for the disabled but learn new therapy skills that enable them to work in military hospitals and clinics. WRNMMC facility dogs make frequent visits to patients and staff in the inpatient and outpatient areas of the hospital to give comfort and support to those in need.

One of the stars of the program is Corpsman Luke, named for Saint Luke, the patron saint of doctors. This energetic, five-year-old German shepherd is “spectacular,” according to his handler and “mom,” Amy O’Connor, the program’s project manager and a licensed social worker.

“He never tires out,” she said. “He is the happiest heart coming into the hospital every day. We say that he’s like a cup of coffee. He boosts people's moods and makes them smile.”

Let’s hear more from Luke himself:

Q: Hi, Luke! Can you tell us more about what you do for your job?

I love my job! I’m so grateful to add positivity to the patient and staff experience at Walter Reed.

I am a member of the patient and staff experience team and work with my fellow facility dogs and human handlers to visit staff and patients daily. We go to wellness meetings, visit with families, and attend ceremonies. Our goal is to bring smiles to the human faces and happiness to their hearts.”

I typically work about an hour and a half, twice a day. Facility dogs need lots of rest. I don’t need as much as others though, so I can work for longer if I’m needed.

I make a walk through the hospital with my handlers. Then, I might visit the intensive care unit, or the pediatric infusion clinic, and then go outside to play. I take a walk at lunchtime and come back in to make my rounds again in the afternoon.

Q: How do you help service members and patients heal?

I can be sort of silly sometimes. I walk around the hospital with my ears tall–I have big ears–and my tail wagging. We visit places like the ICU and wards. Humans pet me and talk to me. I also do tricks to make people laugh. Mom told me that laughing can make humans feel better. The ICU staff members give me treats, tell me stories and take my picture. I am very good at picture taking.

Q: How do you improve mental wellness?

Mental wellness is a top priority for the facility dog team. By simply being present and visiting the staff, patients, and their families, we comfort them, make them smile and support improving their overall health and well-being. Our service members, patients, and staff are at the center of all we do.

I love to help service members. And because I'm a German shepherd, some service members are drawn to me, particularly ones that are energetic and fun. Sometimes it's hard for me to relax. But I can remember going into a service member's room, laying down, and spending time with him.

Q: Why do you think the facility dog program so important?

The program is important because it can cheer patients up in many different ways. When someone comes to the hospital for care, they lose a lot of control. When I come in their room, I give them control back. I ask nothing of them. I am there for them. I'm there to pick up a ball or for a friendly tail wag. I'm giving of myself. That’s what makes the facility dogs so special.

You also may be interested in...

Video
Aug 22, 2023

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 2

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 2

Part 2 - Find the Words Is a friend having a tough time? Do you want to talk to them and don't know how? Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives 3 tips on how to talk to a friend or colleague who you think might be having a hard time. 1. Set the stage for a conversation 2. Find the words 3. Follow-up This is the second video in a series that gives ...

Video
Aug 22, 2023

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 1

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations  - Part 1

Is a friend having a tough time? Do you want to talk to them and don't know how? Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives 3 tips on how to talk to a friend or colleague who you think might be having a hard time. 1. Set the stage for a conversation - find a time when you both have the time and aren't rushed 2. Find the words 3. Follow-up This is the first ...

Video
Aug 22, 2023

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 3

3 Easy Tips for Hard Conversations - Part 3

Part 3 - Follow Up Is a friend having a tough time? Do you want to talk to them and don't know how? Dr. Joshua Morganstein gives 3 tips on how to talk to a friend or colleague who you think might be having a hard time. 1. Set the stage for a conversation 2. Find the words 3. Follow-up This is the third video in a series that gives advice on ...

Article Around MHS
Aug 18, 2023

Pet Therapy at Keesler: Creating a Paw-sitive Environment

An airman in training from the 81st Training Group plays with a therapy dog at the Levitow Training Support Facility on Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, on July 13, 2023. Volunteer teams of therapy animals and their handlers visit the 81st TRG weekly to help alleviate stress for airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kimberly L. Tou)

Overall, both military men and women are nearly twice as likely to report feeling high levels of stress in their military work (39%) than in their family life (22%), according to the National Library of Medicine. Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi provides multiple resources for airmen and their families who may need physical or psychological ...

Article Around MHS
Aug 1, 2023

Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital Celebrates Dog Days of Summer

Piper, an English Bulldog, loves sleeping and cuddling with her human, Carmen Rutledge, a military health assistant with managed care at BJACH.  (Photo: Carmen Rutledge)

“Dogs are like little mood boosters in hospitals,” said U.S. Army Capt. James Walker, hospital chaplain of Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital. He submitted a photo of his dog, Scout, to participate in DHA's Dog Days of Summer campaign, which raises awareness of facility dogs across the MHS. Everyone, including the hospital and dental commander, and ...

Article Around MHS
Jul 25, 2023

Defense Public Health Experts Investigate If Minority Group Service Members are More Likely to Experience Behavioral Health Problems

A recent Department of Defense study found American Indian and Alaska Native U.S. Army Soldiers had higher rates of suicidal ideation than white soldiers. The DOD is investigating behavioral health disparities among minority groups in the military to see how they might mirror similar disparities in the civilian population. (Graphic illustration: Steven Basso, Defense Centers for Public Health-Aberdeen)

U.S. public health agencies such as the National Institute of Mental Health have recognized that certain minority groups appear to experience greater risk for certain behavioral health disorders. The higher rates of adverse health problems in minority groups are often referred to as “disparities.”

Last Updated: September 28, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery