Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves of those who have suffered the worst in service to our country, and the gift of comfort that a therapy dog can provide.
Zoey, a licensed therapy dog, is a new regular at the Embedded Behavioral Health Clinic on Hunter Army Airfield, in Georgia. Her owner, Dr. Tim Fortney, is a clinical psychologist who practices at the clinic. Zoey participates in animal assisted therapy.
Her presence helps calm soldiers, offering an empathetic paw and a welcome distraction while they open up about painful feelings and memories.
In one session, a soldier was struggling to relive a difficult, emotionally intense memory. Sensing the soldier’s pain, Zoey walked over and put her head on the soldier’s knee. The soldier started petting Zoey, as he began recounting his traumatic memory, through tears.
“It was the first time the soldier ever got all the way through their trauma memory,” Fortney told a military reporter. “It was one of the coolest moments I have ever seen. I don’t know if the soldier would have been able to get through it if Zoey wasn’t there. She provided just that extra little bit of comfort that allowed them to deal with that memory.”
In a military culture that discourages expressions of vulnerability, it can be especially important to find anything that makes it easier for soldiers to feel comfortable in a therapy setting. As Dr. Fortney says of Zoey, “She makes it a lot easier for people to come in. She breaks a lot of stigmas.”
With dogs serving our troops overseas, and others offering crucial companionship to returning veterans, their value to our soldiers has never been more clear. We’re grateful for the dogs that are there for the soldiers that serve our country.