Inside the Gates: Dogs play positive role in psychological health
Bolt, a 3-year-old golden retriever, makes his way through the halls of the 212th Rescue Squadron building until he finds an open office door. When he finds one, he enters without knocking and is greeted with hugs and cheers.
"It's been a year and a half that we've had him and he just walks into units off leash and just goes and visits people. He knows the folks that work full-time really well in all different shops from maintenance to operators to logistics," 176th Wing director of psychological health Diann Richardson said.
Richardson is Bolt's owner. Bolt is a highly trained and certified therapy dog who works closely with Richardson in the 176th Wing.
"Knowing all the research about therapy dogs, and at the time my daughter was asking for a second dog, and research being that stress is reduced," Richardson said. "Stress is reduced, the love drug is actually produced which is oxytocin, that feels good when you pet a dog. That dog is really about building bridges with people."
In the year and a half Bolt has roamed the halls throughout the 176th Wing, that's exactly what has happened.
"He's a secret weapon," Richardson said. "He makes people, these operators, these fliers who are a little concerned about their career, it's the ying and the yang. Bolt's here, Diann's here, Bolt's here, and so that just really develops natural relationships."
Bolt's job is to be social and by doing so, he's helping to break barriers with airmen that are some of the walking wounded: airmen who struggle with stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. Because of Bolt, more airmen are overcoming adversity.
Another dog making a huge impact on base is another 3-year-old named TOML. TOML is a chocolate lab and while his overall goal mirror's Bolt's, TOML is a service dog whose duty is to seek out service members having a hard time.
"He'll learn on them," TOML's handler, Maj. John Romspert with the 212th Rescue Squadron said. "He'll come up and start paying attention to them and that one, gives the person time to reach out and get a tactile stimulation where it creates a hormonal release and starts relaxing the individual."
TOML is owned by the government so unlike Bolt, he doesn't have a specific owner and is cared for by many handlers. TOML is also deployable and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He gets all the care as would a soldier," Maj. Romspert said. "Most service animals are working animals or are at least an NCO or an E5, but the rule is your dog tends to be one rank higher than the handler. That just gives that dog protection in case the handler loses control or restraint just like any other issue."
There is no way to know how many lives each dog has touched or saved, but their impact is noticed on a daily basis.
"I can't even count because it's just like a person," Maj. Romspert said. "Everyday is an interview and you never know who you're going to touch. Just him walking by, he'd walk by 50 people in a day, that's 50 smiles. Who knows, it's almost countless how many people he's touched."
"It's joy and instant happiness," Richardson said. "It's pretty neat."
The Army Reserve also has a dog with one of their units and more are being trained to join the base in the near future.
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