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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  • bladenw
    5/09/2014 - 11:30 a.m.

    id like to have a dog like that i would play with him for hours and hours and giver him love cause he would help me when I'm depressed about something he seems like a nice dog .

  • kayla l
    5/09/2014 - 12:19 p.m.

    Aw i love dogs that are loyal and how they just care

  • kaiyaw
    5/09/2014 - 12:25 p.m.

    that dog is so cute lol but thats cool that he helped that person cope with stress

  • 19bsmart
    5/09/2014 - 01:05 p.m.

    Awe this story was so touching! I love dogs and to know that they can do touching things such as helping this soldier with his stress, and coping, it makes me love dogs even more. I wish Lexy was my dog!! she is SO sweat!!

  • TaylorMas
    5/09/2014 - 01:45 p.m.

    This is so cool how dogs can help relieve stress because they are so cute and they are a mans best friend! This is a great things for our soldiers to have while they are out serving our country

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

    It;s just amazing how an animal can help you more than a human being can. I believe that animals are better at making someone feel better, better than a human is.

  • oshanellea
    5/09/2014 - 02:04 p.m.

    dogs can be very and sometimes they use by comforting and being by are side and i really love dogs they are so adorable and cute

  • susannala-Tay
    5/09/2014 - 02:07 p.m.

    I think that Lexy is very enjoyable for the patients because she's lovable! I think having dogs as therapists is such a great idea! I also think they should do that with other patients with different sickness!!

  • jessicap321750
    5/09/2014 - 02:08 p.m.

    that dog is so cute !!!! but that person with the dog is very lucky cause that person had some help . and that dog cares about people !!

  • aliciap
    5/09/2014 - 03:04 p.m.

    awwwww that dog is so cute! oh my gummy bears she is so cool i want a german shepard so bad. but i have two dogs already one's a border collie mixed with a black lab he's name is max [classic dog name] and my other dog's name is sadie she is a pit bull [full blood] i love them both so much and i also have a kitten named rosey she is a grey tabby

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