Cindy Rhodes thought it would be a form of therapy that would help soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she believes she was right.
"I had used pet therapy in the past with Alzheimer's patients," said Rhodes, a recreational therapist at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center.
Sgt. 1st Class Boe, Sgt. 1st Class Budge and 1st Sgt. Maverick, specially trained therapy dogs by America's VetDogs, of Long Island, N.Y., arrived Sept. 29 and have become the most popular members of the therapy staff.
"They have made a huge difference," said Rhodes, who works with psychiatric and substance abuse patients.
Therapy for people with addictions requires opening up to a therapist, and many of the patients Rhodes sees do not want to open up because of post-traumatic stress disorder and the withdrawal and depression it can bring, she said.
Rhodes said the dogs break the ice and help therapists build bonds of trust with the patients.
"The dogs give them something to talk about," she said.
Rhodes spent about nine months trying to get the therapy dogs to Eisenhower after meeting Mike Sargeant of America's VetDogs at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Rhodes had to obtain approval from numerous people, including the Army surgeon general, to implement the programs.
Second Lt. Salena Coaxum, a nurse in the hospital's Residential Treatment Facility, doesn't work directly with the dogs, but she's seen their effect on her patients.
"Just seeing them (the dogs) coming brings smiling and laughing. The dogs will go right up to them," she said.
In two months, the therapists have seen some dramatic results in a few patients.
Susanne Steele, an occupational therapist who is the handler for Budge, a black Labrador retriever, used the dog with a female soldier who was suffering from PTSD.
"She would not talk about what she experienced overseas," Steele said.
The soldier had not been off-post to the mall or a large store in more than a year since returning. She would make only quick trips to the convenience store on post if she needed something.
Steele, the soldier and Budge made a trip to the mall, and Steele was amazed.
While the soldier walked the dog, people came up and asked questions. Steele said the soldier opened up to the people who asked and let them know why she was using the dog.
Then, people thanked the soldier for her military service.
"With one woman, she had tears in her eyes, and she realized 'I am supported, and I can come back,' " Steele said.
Boe, Budge and Maverick are the only therapy dogs in use in Army hospitals, Rhodes said. Both Boe and Budge have been deployed to Iraq, where they were used to treat combat stress.
Budge even learned to play basketball while deployed, Rhodes said.
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