Therapy dog helps soldiers cope with stress
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
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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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Assigned 5 times

  • BrandonI
    5/09/2014 - 01:58 p.m.

    I think it makes sense on animal, dogs in particular, can help make someone calmer. Animals can be a nice distraction and way to start a conversation. Also some people can feel more comfortable with a dog around.

  • yajayrag-Koc
    5/09/2014 - 05:29 p.m.

    I think that Lexi really does help him with his problems. It gives him someone to take care of someone instead of just himself. Dogs are easier to get along with then humans and easier to fall in live with.

  • ZM17Games
    5/12/2014 - 01:00 p.m.

    I think it's awesome that they gave him the dog to help him cope with all the stress i think that it's a really good idea for soldiers who have recently come out of deployment. To get a dog or any pet just to help with the stress.

  • ashlynh-Orv
    5/12/2014 - 03:55 p.m.

    I have read lots of books with the concerning topic of military vets with mental problems, I think it is great that there is something that makes it easier for them to talk about their experiences.

  • mvw18mischief
    5/14/2014 - 08:38 a.m.

    Lexy helps soldiers. This is because she makes them feel more comfortable. They feel like they are safer and can open up when they see Lexy.

  • briannat-Mil
    5/14/2014 - 03:37 p.m.

    I believe that she helps the soldiers out because number one dogs can't talk , so therefore the soldiers don't have to worry about being question on what happened on the battlefield. Another reason is dogs can't judge so that helps as well .

  • manuelp-Koc
    5/17/2014 - 12:50 p.m.

    That's pretty cool that the soldiers that they have a German shepherd and the name of the dog is Lexy that helps soldiers that are injured, they will go to a soldier and start barking at him and starts following the dog to find the injured soldier.

  • kramer64123
    5/18/2014 - 08:43 p.m.

    Lexy helps soldiers with the stress they get from coming back from a deployment if the soldier has a lot of stress. Its good to have someone next to you that will help you be side tract from the things that bother you the most. Lexy is a highly trained dog to help the soldiers get back to where they were before being deployed and to help therapists be able to know more things about the soldier and to help them. So that's why Lexy is a special dog because she helps the feelings and the stress to get out of a soldier that just got back from a long deployment.

  • Sarah H
    5/19/2014 - 11:28 a.m.

    I'm sure that having Lexy there puts the patients at ease. I know when I can pet my cat, I feel at ease and calm. Lexy probably helps a lot of the patients in therapy and most likely gets the patient talking a lot more about their problems and having her there most likely would make them feel more secure too.

  • MichaelH40
    5/20/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    I think this is a great way to help soldiers after the war. Many soldiers have trouble talking about the war. Dogs help comfort people. Therefor comforting the soldiers after the war and through the post tramatic stress.I would like to have a dog to help me if I had trouble after the war.

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