By Pfc. Amy M. LaneMarch 22, 2010
FORT HOOD, Texas -- It can be difficult for some Soldiers to open up after a traumatizing event, or even if they are having problems at home while they are overseas. But the 85th Medical Detachment, 1st Medical Brigade, a combat stress control unit, is learning to work with some very unique ice breakers.
The 85th Soldiers, who are deploying to Iraq at the end of the month, have been training all week with four therapeutic dogs. The dogs are bred, trained and donated to the Army by America's VetDogs.
Stress control dogs can help Soldiers open up and start conversation flowing, said 1st Lt. Camille Betito, the executive officer for the 85th, whether they come into the clinic seeking help, or they're just out walking around the compound and someone approaches the animal.
"We're there for you if you need someone to talk to," Betito said. "The dogs can help people feel more at ease to start talking. Or sometimes just playing fetch or taking a few minutes to pet a dog can be a real comfort and morale booster when you're far away from your loved ones."
Betito said the animals are well loved by their handlers, and they even are assigned a rank, which helps humanize them.
Two representatives from America's VetDogs, Lisa Harvey and Valerie Kramer, came from New York to spend the week teaching Soldiers to work with the dogs. They brought four dogs with them, because the dogs the 85th will be working with are already in Iraq.
The Soldiers learned about the special gear the dogs wear, including: "Mutt Muffs", hearing protection made for dogs, "Doggles", their eye protection, and the boots that protect the dogs' feet from the desert sand.
The dogs went everywhere with the soldiers throughout the week, including doing physical training with them and taking a trip to the post exchange. They also went to the range, where the Soldiers learned how to deal with any fear that the dog may show at loud noises.
Pvt. Carol Ruiz enjoyed working with the dogs and is looking forward to working with one in Iraq.
"I love working with dogs," she said. "They can't talk back but they're always there for emotional support. Dogs are great company because they're always loving no matter what."
Staff Sgt. Darius Cox worked with the dogs on a previous deployment. He saw firsthand how the program can be successful.
"When the clinic opened in the morning, it seemed like the dog would pick out the person who looked the most stressed or upset, and go straight up to them and put her paw on them or climb on their lap."
Cox said he is looking forward to working with a stress control dog again.
"The dog needs to have playtime every day, you can run around with them and have a good time," he said. "It's a morale builder for the people who work with them as well, not only for the people we're caring for."
America's VetDogs, which was created by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, also provides guide dogs and service dogs for wounded veterans.