FORT POLK, La. — If Kathy Adams has her way, the staff at Fort Polk's Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital could soon be living a dog’s life.
Adams, who handles resiliency training for BJACH, is looking into acquiring a therapy dog for use at the hospital.
“These dogs have proven to be a morale booster and an aid in reducing stress wherever they are used,” Adams said. “I thought they would be perfect here where they could be used for our staff, patients and Wounded Warriors.”
To prove her point, Adams invited Joe Tullier and Josh Delancey, canine trainers with Acadiana Canine of Livingston Parish, to bring one of their therapy dogs to Fort Polk and show how the dogs interact with people. The two former Marine dog trainers brought a black Labrador retriever named John Wayne on Jan. 15. The people-friendly canine quickly became a favorite of the folks he met during a tour of the hospital, eliciting oohs and aahs — along with pats to the head and scratches behind his ears.
“This is exactly why I would like to get a therapy dog for the hospital,” Adams said. “Everyone who has met John Wayne has smiled.”
Tullier said he and Delancey do a lot of work with Wounded Warriors who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. In fact, Tullier himself was medically discharged from the Marine Corps with PTSD and said his therapy dog was a major factor in his recovery.
Delancey said therapy dogs provide those who suffer from PTSD with a “comfort zone” or barrier.
“One of the issues people with PTSD often have is getting stressed out when they are in a crowded area,” Delancey said.
“Therapy dogs help by keeping other people from getting too close, and sensing when their owner is getting upset. They also provide the PTSD sufferer with a companion and unconditional love.”
Tullier and Delancey also have a Wounded Warrior Service Dog program. Soldiers with severe injuries are matched with dogs that provide assistance such as opening doors and reaching items that are near to the floor. While the typical cost of such dogs runs $9,000-$15,000, Tullier said through donations he has been able to cut the cost for Soldiers to $500-$600, and often no cost.
“We have a Soldier on Fort Polk who has been approved for a dog and we have a dog for him,” Tullier said. “We’re working to make it happen.”
Tullier said pairing Soldiers with dogs is not a simple process.
“We have to check the Soldier out to make sure he is able to take care of a dog,” Tullier said. “And we have to find a dog that gets along with the owner and is capable of providing what the Soldier needs.”
When those requirements mesh, Tullier said it makes his job worthwhile.
“It’s a great reward to watch a dog grow and learn, and see how it can affect a Soldier in a positive light.”
Adams said she hopes decision makers will look favorably on her request for a therapy dog or BJACH.
“I truly believe a therapy dog would be beneficial for everyone at BAJCH — doctors, nurses, administrative staff and patients,” she said. “It was heartwarming to see the smiles on the faces of our workers and patients when John Wayne made his rounds. You could almost see the stress melt away.”