Ask a Dog: Inside the Life of a Walter Reed Institution Dog

When you’re in pain, need comfort, or just a reason to smile, time with a furry friend may be just what the doctor ordered.

The establishment’s dog program Walter Reed The National Military Medical Center offers all this and more to its patients and staff. The program offers interactive care with innovative animal-assisted interventions to reduce stress and increase overall feelings of well-being.

Facility dogs are trained to become service dogs for people with disabilities, but learn new therapy skills that allow them to work in military hospitals and clinics. WRNMMC facility dogs make frequent visits to patients and staff in the inpatient and outpatient areas of the hospital to provide comfort and support to those in need.

One of the stars of the show is Corpsman Luke, named after Saint Luke, the patron saint of doctors. This energetic five-year-old German Shepherd is “spectacular,” according to his owner and “mom,” Amy O’Connor, the program’s project manager and licensed social worker.

“He never gets tired,” she said. “It’s the happiest heart that arrives at the hospital every day. We say it’s like a cup of coffee. It improves people’s mood and makes them smile.

Let’s hear Luke himself say more:

Q: Hi, Luc! Can you tell us more about what you do in your job?

I love my work! I am very grateful to add positivity to the patient and staff experience at Walter Reed.

I am a member of the Patient and Staff Experience team and work with my fellow canines and human handlers at the facility to visit staff and patients daily. We attend welfare meetings, visit families, and attend ceremonies. Our goal is to bring smiles to human faces and happiness to their hearts.

I usually work for about an hour and a half, twice a day. Facility dogs need plenty of rest. However, I don’t need as much stuff as others, so I can work longer if I need to.

I take a walk around the hospital with my assistants. Then I might visit the intensive care unit or pediatric infusion clinic, then go outside to play. I go for a walk at lunchtime and come back to do my rounds in the afternoon.

Q: How do you help service members and patients heal?

I can be a bit silly sometimes. I walk around the hospital with big ears – I have big ears – and a wagging tail. We visit places like the intensive care unit and wards. Humans pet me and talk to me. I also do things to make people laugh. Mom told me that laughing could make humans feel better. The intensive care staff give me treats, tell me stories and take photos of me. I am very good at taking photos.

Q: How do you improve mental well-being?

Mental well-being is a top priority for the establishment’s canine team. By simply being there and visiting with staff, patients and their families, we comfort them, make them smile and help them improve their overall health and well-being. Our military, patients and staff are at the center of everything we do.

I like helping the military. And because I’m a German Shepherd, some military personnel are attracted to me, especially those who are energetic and fun. Sometimes I find it hard to relax. But I remember going into a soldier’s room, lying down and spending time with him.

Q: Why do you think the establishment dog program is so important?

The program is important because it can boost the morale of patients in different ways. When a person comes to the hospital for treatment, they lose a lot of control. When I enter their room, I give them control back. I don’t ask them anything. I’m here for them. I’m here to pick up a ball or for a friendly cue. I give myself. That’s what makes the facility’s dogs so special.


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