SIT, HEAL

Orlando Sentinel - - EXTRA HEALTH & FITNESS - By Julie Rovner

The new­est fac­ulty mem­ber at the Uni­formed Ser­vices Univer­sity of the Health Sciences has a great smile — and a wag­ging tail.

Shet­land, not quite 2 years old, is half golden re­triever, half Labrador re­triever. As of this fall, he is also a lieu­tenant com­man­der in the Navy and a clin­i­cal in­struc­tor in the De­part­ment of Med­i­cal and Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­ogy at USUHS.

Among Shet­land’s skills are “hug­ging” on com­mand, pick­ing up a fallen ob­ject as small as a cell­phone and car­ry­ing around a small bas­ket filled with candy for har­ried med­i­cal and grad­u­ate stu­dents who study at the mil­i­tary’s med­i­cal school cam­pus in Bethesda, Mary­land.

But Shet­land’s job is to pro­vide much 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,” said USUHS Dean Arthur Keller­mann. He said stu­dents in­ter­act­ing with Shet­land are learn­ing “the value of an­i­mal-as­sisted ther­apy.”

The use of dogs trained to help their hu­man part­ners has bal­looned since stud­ies in the 1980s and 1990s started to show how an­i­mals can ben­e­fit hu­man health.

But helper dogs come in many va­ri­eties. Ser­vice dogs, like guide dogs for the blind, help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties live more in­de­pen­dently. Ther­apy dogs can be house­hold pets who visit peo­ple in hos­pi­tals, schools and nurs­ing homes. And then there are highly trained work­ing dogs, like the Bel­gian Mali­nois that re­cently helped run down Is­lamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi.

Shet­land is tech­ni­cally a “mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity dog,” trained to pro­vide phys­i­cal and men­tal as­sis­tance to pa­tients as well as in­ter­act with a wide va­ri­ety of peo­ple. His mil­i­tary com­mis­sion does not en­ti­tle him to salutes from his hu­man coun­ter­parts.

“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,” said Mary Con­stantino, deputy pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer at Wal­ter Reed Na­tional Mil­i­tary Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

USUHS, which trains doc­tors, den­tists, nurses and other health pro­fes­sion­als for the mil­i­tary, is on the same cam­pus in subur­ban Wash­ing­ton, D.C., as Wal­ter Reed. Two of the seven Wal­ter Reed fa­cil­ity dogs — Hospi­tal Corps­man 2nd Class Sully (the for­mer ser­vice dog for Pres­i­dent

Ge­orge H.W. Bush) and Ma­rine Sgt. Dil­lon — at­tended Shet­land’s for­mal com­mis­sion­ing cer­e­mony in Septem­ber as guests.

The Wal­ter Reed dogs, on cam­pus since 2007, earn com­mis­sions in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. They wear spe­cial vests des­ig­nat­ing their ser­vice and rank. The dogs visit and in­ter­act with pa­tients in sev­eral med­i­cal units, as well as in phys­i­cal and oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy, and help boost morale for pa­tients’ fam­ily mem­bers.

But Shet­land’s role is very dif­fer­ent, said re­tired Col. Lisa Moores, USUHS as­so­ciate dean for as­sess­ment and pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment.

“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 said.

As in civil­ian life, the mil­i­tary has made sig­nif­i­cant 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,” said Moores. Dogs also play a key role in help­ing re­turn­ing ser­vice mem­bers with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Stu­dents need to learn who “the right pa­tient is for a dog, or some other ther­apy an­i­mal,” she said. “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 stu­dents, not sur­pris­ingly, are thrilled by their new­est teacher.

Bre­lahn Wy­att, a sec­ondyear med­i­cal stu­dent, said the Wal­ter Reed dogs visit the school’s 1,500 stu­dents and fac­ulty fairly reg­u­larly, but “hav­ing Shet­land here all the time is op­ti­mal.” And not just be­cause of the hugs and candy.

Wy­att said the only thing she knew about ser­vice dogs be­fore “is that you’re not sup­posed to pet them.” But Shet­land acts as both a ser­vice dog and a ther­apy dog, so he can be pet­ted.

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

Like his col­leagues Sully and Dil­lon, Shet­land was bred and trained by Amer­ica’s VetDogs. The New York non­profit pro­vides dogs for “stress con­trol” for ac­tive­duty mil­i­tary mis­sions over­seas, as well as ser­vice dogs for dis­abled vet­er­ans and civil­ian first re­spon­ders. Many of the pup­pies are raised by a com­bi­na­tion of prison in­mates (dur­ing the week) and fam­i­lies (on the week­ends), be­fore re­turn­ing to New York for for­mal ser­vice dog train­ing.

Dogs can be par­tic­u­larly help­ful in treat­ing ser­vice mem­bers, said Va­lerie Cramer, man­ager of Amer­ica’s VetDogs ser­vice dog pro­gram. “The mil­i­tary is think­ing about re­siliency. They’re think­ing about well-be­ing, about de­com­pres­sion in the com­bat zone.” Of­ten peo­ple in pain won’t talk to an­other per­son but will open up in front of a dog. “It’s an op­por­tu­nity to start a con­ver­sa­tion as a be­hav­ioral health spe­cial­ist,” she said.

JULIE ROVNER/TNS

Shet­land — half golden re­triever, half Labrador re­triever — is a lieu­tenant com­man­der in the Navy and a clin­i­cal in­struc­tor in Bethesda, Mary­land.

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