A battalion of Fort Carson Soldiers attended a special ceremony Dec. 17 as one of their buddies, named Fox, was promoted to the honorary rank of sergeant - no small feat for this dog who is part of the Evans Pet Therapy Program.
While not uncommon for military working dogs, Fox attaining an honorary rank and having a promotion ceremony, complete with a coin presentation from the Warrior Transition Battalion commander, is quite unique.
"Fox has been coming (to the WTB) for about two years on a weekly basis," said Evelyn Wertenberger, a licensed clinical social worker with the WTB and Fox's owner. "As a social worker, I'm assigned to work with Charlie Company, so Fox and I visit there every week. It's because of Fox's loyalty, commitment and loving personality that the conversation about an honorary promotion began, and it just went from there; thanks to WTB Commander Lt. Col. (Andrew) Grantham, Capt. (Uzoma) Aniniba and Sgt. 1st Class Pamela Graves for making the event a reality."
Besides the many technical and medical forms of therapy used to treat Fort Carson Soldiers recovering from their injuries, therapy dogs are providing an extra touch of comfort. Wertenberger said the dogs provide a distraction from emotional or physical pain and provide love and affection.
"Many Soldiers are away from home and miss their Family, friends and pets and visiting with Fox can help reduce stress and anxiety," she said.
Therapy dogs are specially trained to help people in need and who need comfort, such as those in nursing or retirement homes, hospitals, schools and in disaster areas. Some therapy dogs deploy in support of American forces overseas.
The Evans Pet Therapy Program operates under the auspices of the American Red Cross. There are approximately 12 teams on post that visit Evans Army Community Hospital, various programs around post and attend special events upon request.
"Fox comes to the Social Work Clinic with me, usually on Fridays and is present during sessions with Soldiers. She becomes part of therapy when the individual chooses to engage with her," said Wertenberger. "She senses when someone needs that extra attention; at times she helps people open up and begin a conversation - Soldiers will talk about or to her when it's difficult to talk to others."
All sizes and breeds of dogs can be trained and accredited to be therapy dogs. One of the most important aspects when considering a dog for this field is its temperament. The dogs must have a capability to enjoy humans and human contact, be patient, friendly, and confident in any situation and, according to Wertenberger, they must have a gentle air about them.
"Fox and I have worked together over the years in our training. We have completed basic and advanced obedience training, a Canine Good Citizens Course, Therapy Dog Training and the Delta Society Pet Partners Program Evaluation and Certification. We are re-evaluated and certified every two years by the Delta Society and yearly by the Fort Carson Veterinary Clinic," she said. "I say we, because we are both trained, it isn't a solo endeavor, we are both Red Cross volunteers."
Once they pass these tests and requirements, the dogs are able to do what they are trained to do and become valuable to those who need the contact most.
"I think she helps normalize situations.
Families, staff and individuals have enjoyed her visits and have often remarked that they look forward to seeing her. She has a calming effect," said Wertenberger.
"While there is a lot of work involved in the training and care of therapy dogs, the outcome - touching the lives of Soldiers - is well worth the time and energy," she said. "I support and encourage anyone interested to follow through and join the Evans Pet Therapy Program."