Sit, Heal: Dog Teaches Military Med Students The Merits Of Service Animals

The latest school member on the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences has an excellent smile — and a wagging tail.

Shetland, not fairly 2 years previous, is half golden retriever, half Labrador retriever. As of this fall, he’s additionally a lieutenant commander within the Navy and a medical teacher within the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology at USUHS.

Among Shetland’s abilities are “hugging” on command, choosing up a fallen object as small as a cellphone and carrying round a small basket crammed with sweet for harried medical and graduate college students who research on the navy’s medical college campus in Bethesda, Md.

But Shetland’s job is to supply far more than smiles and a head to pat.

“He is here to teach, not just to lift people’s spirits and provide a little stress relief after exams,” mentioned USUHS Dean Arthur Kellermann. He mentioned college students interacting with Shetland are studying “the value of animal-assisted therapy.”

The use of canine skilled to assist their human companions has ballooned since research within the 1980s and 1990s began to indicate how animals can benefit human health.

But helper canine are available many sorts. Service canine, like information canine for the blind, assist individuals with disabilities stay extra independently. Therapy canine will be family pets who go to individuals in hospitals, colleges and nursing houses. And then there are extremely skilled working canine, like the Belgian Malinois that lately helped run down Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Shetland is technically a “military facility dog,” skilled to supply bodily and psychological help to sufferers in addition to work together with all kinds of individuals. His navy fee doesn’t entitle him to salutes from his human counterparts.

Although service canine are generally seen on the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Shetland, a retriever combine, is a medical teacher within the Department of Medical and Clinical Psychology.

“The ranks are a way of honoring the services [of the dogs] as well as strengthening the bond between the staff, patients and dogs here,” mentioned Mary Constantino, deputy public affairs officer at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

USUHS, which trains docs, dentists, nurses and different well being professionals for the navy, is on the identical campus in suburban Washington, D.C., as Walter Reed. Two of the seven Walter Reed facility canine — Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sully (the previous service canine for President George H.W. Bush) and Marine Sgt. Dillon — attended Shetland’s formal commissioning ceremony in September as company.

The Walter Reed canine, on campus since 2007, earn commissions within the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. They put on particular vests designating their service and rank. The canine go to and work together with sufferers in a number of medical items, in addition to in bodily and occupational remedy, and assist enhance morale for sufferers’ members of the family.

But Shetland’s function could be very totally different, mentioned retired Col. Lisa Moores, USUHS affiliate dean for evaluation improvement.

“Our students are going to work with therapy dogs in their careers, and they need to understand what [the dogs] can do and what they can’t do,” she mentioned.

As in civilian life, the navy has made important use of animal-assisted therapy. “When you walk through pretty much any military treatment facility, you see therapy dogs walking around in clinics, in the hospitals, even in the ICUs,” mentioned Moores. Dogs additionally play a key function in serving to returning service members with post-traumatic stress dysfunction.

Students must be taught who “the right patient is for a dog, or some other therapy animal,” she mentioned. “And by having Shetland here, we can incorporate that into the curriculum so it’s another tool the students know they have for their patients someday.”

The college students, not surprisingly, are thrilled by their latest trainer.

Brelahn Wyatt, a second-year medical pupil, mentioned the Walter Reed canine used to go to the college’s 1,500 college students and school pretty recurrently, however “having Shetland here all the time is optimal.” And not simply due to the hugs and sweet.

Wyatt mentioned the one factor she knew about service canine earlier than “is that you’re not supposed to pet them.” But Shetland acts as each a service canine and a remedy canine, so he will be petted.

That helps medical college students see “there’s a difference. What does that difference look like in the health care setting?” mentioned Wyatt.

Like his colleagues Sully and Dillon, Shetland was bred and skilled by America’s VetDogs. The New York nonprofit gives canine for “stress control” for active-duty navy missions abroad, in addition to service canine for disabled veterans and civilian first responders. Many of the puppies are raised by a mix of jail inmates (throughout the week) and households (on the weekends), earlier than returning to New York for formal service canine coaching. National Hockey League teams such because the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders additionally increase puppies for the group.

Dogs will be notably useful in treating service members, mentioned Valerie Cramer, supervisor of America’s VetDogs service canine program. “The military is thinking about resiliency. They’re thinking about well-being, about decompression in the combat zone.” Often individuals in ache received’t speak to a different particular person however will open up in entrance of a canine. “It’s an opportunity to start a conversation as a behavioral health specialist,” she mentioned.

While service canine for people are skilled to carry out each bodily duties like choosing up dropped gadgets and emotional ones like waking a veteran having a nightmare, facility canine like Shetland are particular, Cramer mentioned. “That dog has to work in all different environments with people who are under pressure. It can work for multiple handlers, it can go and visit people, can go visit hospital patients, can knock over bowling pins to entertain or spend time in bed with a child.”

The navy rank for the canine isn’t any joke. They will be promoted ― as Dillon was from Army specialist to sergeant in 2018 ― or demoted for dangerous habits.

Said Kellermann, “So far, Shetland has a perfect conduct record.”

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