Therapy dog helps soldiers cope with stress Former Sgt. 1st Class Van Woodruff is comforted by Lexy, a German Shepherd that is changing the lives of U.S. Army soldiers being treated for physical and psychological injuries
Therapy dog helps soldiers cope with stress
Lexile

After three deployments to Iraq and three to Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Dennis Swols is prone to bouts of anger. He is unable to really talk about his time on the battlefield.

But as Swols sits in a clinic at Fort Bragg, his hand drops to the furry head beside him. His mood brightens. Settled at his feet, Lexy, a 5-year-old German shepherd, gives Swols a few moments of distraction.

It's her job. And, according to Swols, she's good at it.

"I have a hard time talking to people about my deployments and everything," says Swols, who took part in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the march into Baghdad in 2003. Now he's been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

"I just pet Lexy. Or I'm just sitting here and we won't talk about deployments, we'll just (talk) about the dogMy day is better every time I come in."

For psychiatrist Christine Rumayor, Lexy is a partner and a living, breathing medical tool. The dog can calm a patient and make a therapy appointment a little more enjoyable.

Animal therapy is used in only a few other Army installations, including Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. A small number of dogs like Lexy are being used almost as co-therapists. Others routinely work as service animals and are often used for animal-assisted therapy. That includes visits to patients in the hospitals.

Lexy went through about 2 1/2 years of training before she was able to pin on her rank she's a lieutenant colonel and become certified as Fort Bragg's only therapy dog.

The Army is struggling to address stress disorders and mental health problems brought on by more than a decade of war. One of the biggest hurdles is getting soldiers to seek treatment. Lexy, it turns out, is particularly good at that.

Rumayor, who wrote the Fort Bragg policy that allows her to use Lexy in her practice, said there was resistance at first.

"You don't want everybody to think they can just bring their dog to work," she said.

Walking around the base, she uses Lexy to attract soldiers, then draws them into conversation.

"Stigma is one of the huge things the military is trying super hard to overcome, and Lexy is probably the biggest asset I have in overcoming that stigma," Rumayor said. "There's nothing better than coming to an appointment where you get to have a warm fuzzy thing that you get to pet all the time.

"People don't want to come in the door. When they see her coming in, it makes them want to come in the door."

Critical thinking challenge: How does Lexy help soldiers get help?

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COMMENTS (27)
  • KristenS9161999
    5/09/2014 - 08:13 a.m.

    Lexy helps soldiers by taking their mind of the war and their experiences. It is a proven fact that petting animals help reduce human stress and calm their blood pressure.

  • amandad-
    5/09/2014 - 09:28 a.m.

    The reason Lexy the dog help the soldiers to get help is to calm them down from stress by petting the dog. The soldier go see a therapy for mental health. It's the dog's job to help the soldiers with stress. It took place at Fort Bragg. It happens today.

  • madelines-Ste
    5/09/2014 - 10:19 a.m.

    WOW> This dog is awesome I love how it help the solders. For the things that they go through and they hardly get anything to help them, so this dog is doing a lot

  • RachelBi
    5/09/2014 - 01:42 p.m.

    This is really neat! Maybe all of the soldiers who come back and suffer from stress problems, should be given a dog like Lexy.

  • kaylaVa
    5/09/2014 - 01:44 p.m.

    Dogs are good for just about everything. I think that it is great that this dog and dogs like her are helping other people get the help that they need.

  • KailynPa
    5/09/2014 - 01:44 p.m.

    I love reading stories about dogs helping people. Sometimes I feel like dogs give more contribution to the world than people. I find it truly amazing as to what they can do!

  • KalynSi
    5/09/2014 - 01:47 p.m.

    I think that dogs really can help if a human is going through a hard time and this is proof. She is doing and amazing things and all she has to do is sit next to the patient. Lexy has probably helped so many people and there are so many more to come.

  • brynnd
    5/09/2014 - 01:48 p.m.

    Dogs are my favorite animal! They are so sweet and loyal. Dogs are not only a man's best friend, but everyone's. I think that it will help people with disorders like stress because dogs only listen to your problems, and not judge you for it.

  • Lindsay C
    5/09/2014 - 01:49 p.m.

    I understand how a dog can help cope with stress. My sister is in basic training right now and in her letters she explains how just getting something little like a letter can make your day so much better. I bet if she had Lexy to see, she would be ten times better.

  • JericaD77
    5/09/2014 - 01:55 p.m.

    This is an amazing thing! It's cool to have your dog come to work with you, but even better that she has that job too. It's also great that they are getting help for soldiers who have risked so much for us as citizens, and for the country itself. If it works why shouldn't you use your pet to help you? Especially if she's helping others too.

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