Canine comfort for Veterans, with Aly, the poodle diva
Two years ago, beautiful dogs in bright red vests roamed the halls of the main VA Sierra Nevada campus. It was only natural to see veterans waiting patiently in the inpatient pharmacy, primary care, mental health and IV clinic smiling while being pleasantly distracted by the furry babies lapping up attention.
For animals and humans, it was a perfect match.
At the start of the pandemic, the hallways of our once bustling medical center looked more like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie, empty and devoid of all emotion except fear and sadness.
As medical and administrative staff gathered to deal with an unfamiliar scenario while creating rescue measures, these pleasurable animals were kept at home with their owners, missing smiles and personal interaction. that made them feel special.
The American Kennel Club has even reported that some therapy dogs also struggle with depression.
Alynn Lupold and her husband, Doug, both employed by VA, had recently adopted an 8-year-old Standard Poodle, Aly. Doug is a retired Nevada State Soldier and Air Force veteran, currently serving as a Recreation Assistant at the Community Living Center (CLC).
Lupold is a blood and platelet donor and often volunteers at the local food bank. When her husband mentioned how isolated veterans felt in CLC due to COVID and what a benefit it would be to bring back therapy animals, she began her research.
Aly and Ray hit it off immediately
After a year, Lupold and Aly had their first visit to campus. It was worth the wait to see Aly’s magic at work. The first veteran Aly met was Navy veteran Ray. The two hit it off immediately.
“I noticed Aly was more comfortable with veterans sitting or in a wheelchair,” Lupold said. “She walked over to Ray in her wheelchair. Ray could be seen relaxing when she approached him and he used such a gentle tone when talking to her.
Whispers passed from the man to the dog as he patiently stroked her head. At one point, Ray stopped petting her to talk to Alynn and recreational therapist Joanne Ferris. It wasn’t long before Aly made it clear that she didn’t like being ignored by her new friend. She moved closer to Ray and put her head on her knees, demanding more attention.
Ray chuckled. “Do you see that? She’s a darling!” He said. When asked what he thought of the return from the show, Ray said, “She’s a darling and brightens my day.”
Severe veteran no match for friendly poodle
Aly coaxed the sweetest words of 20 veterans that day with her unusually long lashes, fancy hairstyle and purple nails. A veteran’s reaction caught most of the surrounding witnesses off guard. He was known to have a rather stern personality, but his heart was not up to Aly’s soft, honey-colored eyes.
Covered in head-to-toe tattoos and in his 60s, Michael had suffered a stroke on his left side and was sitting on his bed when Aly entered his room.
Lupold moved Aly to the left side of the bed so Michael could see and interact with her. Immediately, Aly recognized Michael and jumped onto his bed, catching everyone off guard.
The older veteran laughed, cried, and hugged the adorable poodle. It quickly became clear who was in charge as everyone watched this man’s heart melt without any shame. “I love Aly and she loves me,” said the veteran.
Amazing how the veterans react
For anyone wondering if their perfect pooch would fit the mold, Alynn advises, “Your dog should be well socialized with a calm demeanor, good humor and cannot be shy or scared. It is also important that the dog does not behave aggressively towards other dogs or people, as you will be walking around the facility and other people will have their service animals with them.
When asked if all the smiles from the veterans were worth the long certification process, Alynn simply replied, “Without a doubt. “
For more information on certifying your dog as a zootherapy animal, visit Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
Differences between therapy animals and service animals
There are some differences between therapy animals and service dogs. It can sometimes be confusing to understand these differences.
- A service animal is any dog individually trained to perform work and perform specific tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. The task (s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. Assistance dogs can be trained to perform many tasks that are important to assist people with disabilities, such as providing stability for a person who has difficulty walking, picking up things for a person in a wheelchair, preventing a child with autism from moving away or alerting a person with hearing loss when someone approaches from behind.
- Therapy animals are used (usually in a clinical setting) to improve quality of life and physical, developmental, social, cognitive, and / or emotional health functioning. These service animals are not limited to dogs and can include animals other than dogs, including cats, horses, llamas, and a number of other animals.
The Puppies Assisting Injured Servicemen Act 2021 (PAWS Act 2021) has been enacted. It establishes a program of grant programs to match assistance dogs with eligible veterans. VA is in the process of developing this grant program.