Good Medicine: Four-legged Volunteers Lend a Helping Paw

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Each month, the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital receives two special visitors. Both visitors would rather lift spirits than play fetch — Paisley, a Great Dane and Lela, a Labrador retriever, are Red Cross therapy dogs.

Pvt. Jean Lacap, Company B, 84th Chemical Battalion, is greeted by Lela, Red Cross therapy dog, during a visit to General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., March 18, 2012.

Lela’s owner, Kelly Howley, therapy dog volunteer, said Lela knows when it’s time to make a therapy trip to the hospital.

“Lela knows — we get in the front gate and we jump in [General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital] — and she is literally ready to go,” Howley said.

Therapy dogs are trained to improve the quality of life and provide companionship to others. They provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, retirement homes, nursing homes and schools, such as those with learning difficulties and in stressful situations.

Paisley’s owner, Lee Vesely, therapy dog volunteer, and Howley, said their dogs do just what they were trained to do — make people smile.

“For a lot of people, it’s a break in their day, especially the ones who have been here for days on end,” Vesely said. “Many say ‘thank you for coming in.’ They are very pleased.”

Vesely and Howley said Soldiers-in-training enjoy seeing the dogs come in when they are in the waiting rooms at GLWACH because they don’t have the opportunity to see many dogs while they are going through training.

“The privates here in training, you don’t realize they haven’t seen a dog the whole time they are in training and they just want to pet a dog,” Vesely said.

Not only do Paisley and Lela cheer up the patients at GLWACH, but they also greet and cheer up the hospital staff, Howley said.

“We had a lady tell us one day, ‘I was having a really bad day and then you guys came in and I got to be with the dogs, so thank you,'” Vesely said. “So, it gives them a little break too.”

Pfc. Joseph Walters, who works in the GLWACH emergency room, said he thinks having the dogs come to GLWACH is good thing.

“It’s a morale booster,” Walters said. “It’s a lot of fun and they are awesomely behaved.”

Vesely and Howley said therapy dog work is very rewarding.

“We both love animals and it’s a way to use them to help give back, and the dogs love doing it,” Vesely said.

“It gave my dog’s life a purpose,” Howley added.

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