MADISON, Wis. - When Cindy Brosig first started using her G.I. Bill to earn her master's degree in nursing, she thought animal therapy was just a way for people to bring dogs to the hospital for patients to pet.
After devoting two years of research, papers and projects to animal therapy, she learned there was much more to it.
"I didn't really realize how supported it was in the medical world," Brosig said. "So I thought, 'wouldn't it be wonderful to take this to the kids?'"
And that's what she did.
After adopting, training and registering her rescued German Shepherd-Coonhound mix, Ted, as a therapy dog, Brosig approached her husband's unit, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, and the Wisconsin National Guard Child and Youth Program to volunteer her services.
Recently, Brosig brought Ted to interact with military children from families of 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Soldiers at a Badger Yellow Ribbon event as the unit prepares to deploy to the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
"We were attending the Yellow Ribbon ceremony visiting with kids, and in that instance, it was kind of preparing them for emotions and feelings," Brosig said. "I kind of use Ted as a good platform to give the kids to take the pressure off kids maybe wanting to share their personal experience."
Brosig said some of the children open up more with Ted there since dogs are generally unconditional, unbiased partners. While therapy dogs receive obedience training, the therapeutic part is more natural. They are different from service dogs because they are allowed to use their innate emotions, she said.
"I think it's different where I would allow Ted to nudge if he felt a child was feeling blue or down," Brosig said. "I pretty much let Ted and the individual work through. Ted's very attentive to feelings and emotions."
Ted was registered as a therapy dog in June 2015, beginning Operation Heal and Empower Every Life (Operation H.E.E.L.). Operation H.E.E.L uses animal-assisted therapy to support military children, families and veterans. However, the idea to train a therapy dog came from Brosig's personal experiences with her dog, Aggie.
"She helped me through my husband's deployments," Brosig said. "She was there for me when I was with two young kids and two deployments. One was 18 months, and I had just given birth to my daughter, so I had gone through some big emotional, I'm sure postpartum, troubles, and Aggie was there."
Brosig's passion to help military families stemmed from serving for nine years in the Air Force Nurse Corps.
"I obviously took care of Soldiers, but also, working in clinics, I took care of a lot of family members, and I saw a lot of challenges," Brosig said. "I heard a lot of challenges."
She found that military kids are very resilient and supportive of their families and military lifestyle. Operation: H.E.E.L. has had a role in Wisconsin National Guard Youth Camp, Badger Yellow Ribbon events, and visiting schools in support and celebration of military children.
"I get so much feedback that nobody realizes what these kids are doing and what they offer to the community, showing their strength that sometimes you fall on hard times, but you get up and you don't blame anybody for it," Brosig said.
Fittingly, April is the designated Month of the Military Child, where military youth are honored for their unique contributions and sacrifices in support of their service member. The Wisconsin National Guard is celebrating the Month of the Military Child by encouraging military youth to participate in the "Young Lives, Big Stories" contest which is designed to share the story of service members through their children's eyes. Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs staff also wore purple April 13 to show their support for military kids.
Brosig plans to continue showing her support by offering one-on-one classes for military children at Lucky Dog Daycare in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, starting in June. She will also continue participating in Wisconsin National Guard Child and Youth Program activities and visiting schools.