Therapy Dogs Heal Soldiers

A man stands a distance away from a booth being run by Amanda Hackbarth, a membership chair of the German Shepherd Dog Club, as well a volunteer for the American Red Cross. Close by is her faithful therapy dog, Fritz. They are participating in the Public Education Seattle Kennel Club show. A man approaches and asks, "May I pet fritz?" She replies back. "Sure." He kneels down to pet Fritz and with in seconds he starts to become emotional, and then begins to cry. He stands up, and with tears streaming down his face says, "That's the first time I have pet another dog in 35 years. I was a Vietnam dog handler. I have never been able to touch another German Shepherded because I had to leave mine there. I have had to just get over this. Thank you for letting me pet your dog."

Like clockwork, everyday you can see Mrs. Hackbarth and Fritz walking the halls of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis. Fritz, a purebred Germen Shepherded is a trained pet therapy dog. Pet therapy is documented even as far back as the 9th century were dogs were used at a farm in Gheel, Belgium to teach those with disabilities how to care for the animals. At the WTB Fritz makes his way around and soldiers are instantly drawn to him – it doesn't take long before soldiers start coming up to Fritz. Sergeant Shannon Chalfant of Bravo Company and Corporal Tyler Nash kneel down and pet fritz. Their faces go from slightly tense to relaxed, then smiling. The worries and stresses of the day momentarily disappear. Sergeant Chalfant says "It makes me feel really good seeing Fritz. I have been trying for sometime to get my own therapy dog. Fritz actually calms me down and keeps my mind off of what going on with me medically. Over all it just really helps my morale."

Corporal Nash's sentiments are similar. "It's just really relaxing. I love animals and they pretty much know what kind of mood you're in all the time and they react to that mood. They really cheer you up, especially, Fritz – he is calm and relaxed. When you scratch his head it sort of looks like he is smiling. It is just really, really relaxing."

Mrs. Hackbarth says, "I adopted Fritz as a puppy from a breeder. Fritz has earned two AKC or American Kennel Club awards obedience awards. One for companion dog excellence level I and the next level is Retrieving, he does that. Fritz's popularity grew even more when he meet Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as Secretary of the Army Pete Geren."

The Warrior Transition Battalion holds those that have been injured in combat and also those with non- combat medical issues. Pet therapy is a key in the healing. According to research has shown that pets reduce stress-induced symptoms. Petting a dog can lower blood pressure. A dog presence can boost peoples' moods and enhance their social interaction. The proof is evident in the halls of WTB that pet therapy is effective. .

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