Story and photo by John Brooks
General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital patients and staff suffering from isolation or loneliness can self-medicate once again with Animal Facilitated Therapy every Wednesday morning from 8:30 to 11 a.m. in the GLWACH main foyer seating area.
“It’s one of those win, win, win programs,” said Susan Aspeotes, American Red Cross volunteer and Health Assistance Animals in the Military (HAAM) certified handler. “It keeps me active; it’s good for the dogs, and good for everybody we meet.”
The benefit derived from human-animal interactions is real — it’s well recognized, increasingly documented, and used throughout the health care community, according to MEDDAC Reg 40-905-1.
This is no surprise to Susan and her husband, Harry Aspeotes, who are both American Red Cross volunteers and HAAM-certified handlers who provide GLWACH’s weekly AFT with their HAAM-certified therapy dogs.
“It’s really beneficial,” said Gabriela Gallagher, Red Cross Regional Program Manager. “It is not for companionship, it is to help with stress. Soldiers, they walk in, pet the dogs, they get a smile on their faces, and it gives them an instant kind of relief from what they’re going through.”
The GLWACH AVP enables human-animal interactions to occur, which have been shown to reduce isolation and loneliness and assist in recovery and comfort of patients and staff, according to AFT studies conducted by the Army Medical Department since 1985.
GLWACH currently has four therapy dogs that visit the hospital.
“I would love to have more dogs here in the hospital, that’s for sure,” Gallagher said.
Those interested in providing certified therapy dog visits at GLWACH must be HAAM-certified American Red Cross volunteers, and their dogs must be HAAM-certified, as well.
“Not every animal is suited for it,” Gallagher said. “They have to be calm, can’t be jumpers or barkers. They have to have the right personality. Susan is actually a (HAAM) tester for our area and (American Red Cross) volunteers have to have background checks.”
The HAAM certification process tests the dogs and determines their suitability for therapy work (behavior, temperament, stability, etc.) and provides insurance coverage for their member handlers and dogs. All dog/handler teams participating in the program must pass the required certification test and maintain current membership in the organization, according to MEDDAC Reg. 40-905-1.
“Once they have everything done, they can come into the facility. They walk through the facility and offer (the animals for) people to pet,” Gallagher said.
The animals may visit patient rooms or other pre-designated areas, once clinic leadership verifies any known allergies or fears associated with animals among patients in the same patient room, and approval for the planned visitation is granted, according to MEDDAC Reg. 40-905-1.
The dogs are not permitted in food-preparation or storage areas, clean or sterile supply storage areas, medication areas, the emergency room, or other areas where exceptionally sanitary precautions are necessary, also per MEDDAC Reg. 40-905-1.
Patients throughout the hospital, as well as hospital staff members, were asking about the dogs from the AVP and when they were coming back, Gallagher said.
Hospital Commander Col. Kimberlie Biever, and Deputy Commander for Nursing Col. Robert Kent, as well as Susan and Harry Aspeotes, worked hard to get the AVP back into the facility, Gallagher said.
Those interested in volunteering with the AVP must be American Red Cross volunteers and should contact Gallagher at 573.596.0300 and leave a message if she is not there. For more information on testing requirements, visit www.therapydogs.com.
(Editor’s note: Brooks is the GLWACH Marketing officer.)