Monday, July 20, 2009

Oregon Army National Guard soldier is taking stress to the dogs

Oregon Army National Guard Warrant Officer Alicia Fuller gets a "high-five" from her dog Khaos, who is a certified therapy dog, in front of Joint-Force Headquarters in Salem, Ore. Fuller, who works with the Recruit and Sustainment Program, will soon deploy with Khaos to National Guard Bureau to work with injured soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center.

During her deployment to Afghanistan, Oregon Army National Guard Warrant Officer Alicia Fuller said she noticed that when a dog was around everyone’s spirits lifted.

“There is something about having a dog around that seems to make everything better,” said Fuller.

That experience with therapy dogs is translating into a program which benefits Oregon’s citizen-soldiers by helping ease battlefield stress.

VetDogs, a subsidiary of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, was originally created to provide wounded military veterans with specialized service dogs to help them maintain their independence and mobility. Now these trained dogs are being sent over to Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers deal with combat stress.

“Studies show that having dogs in theater reduces stress by about 50 percent,” said Fuller.

For Fuller, it was her personal love of dogs and seeing the impact they could have on homesick or stressed-out soldiers which prompted her to investigate how she could help in that process.

After returning from Afghanistan, she researched and acquired a personal protection dog, but when her dog arrived Fuller said her personality was more of what she described as a “flower child” than a trained bodyguard.

Still, Fuller named her Khaos.

“I started pushing her toward therapy because it seemed like where her personality was going,” said Fuller.

Fuller said Khaos has an amazing ability to pick out people who need her most.

“She’s basically a stress dog,” Fuller said. “If you are under stress, she can pick people up. She’ll go up to you and give you hugs or kisses or whatever you need,” Fuller added.

Small for her breed, Khaos exudes all the attributes of puppyhood. But once Fuller fastens on the specially-designed vest, emblazoned with the words “Certified Therapy Dog” in bright white letters, Khaos is all business. She even has her own official identification badge.

Fuller began intensive training with Khaos, achieving full certification in only 14 months. As part of the 41st Brigade Combat Team, she also taught Khaos the finer points of being around Army weapons and the sounds of battle.

“I’ve had her around field artillery weapons and every kind of pistol rifle you can imagine,” said Fuller.

But her plans to take her on deployment changed in January of 2009, when brigade leadership said she would be going to work at Joint Force Headquarters in Salem instead. Fuller settled in as part of the Recruit and Sustainment Program with Khaos in tow.

Fuller is now looking toward an upcoming tour at National Guard Bureau, and hopes Khaos will be able to assist with injured soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Even though Khaos will be working as a full-time stress therapy dog, Fuller adds that her dog is not a “one-trick pony.”

“My biggest hope is to get her national certification and start cross training her as a search (and rescue) dog,” said Fuller.

Story by Kimberly L. Lippert,
Oregon National Guard Public Affairs Office

No comments: