Therapy Pups Wag Tails in Iraq
IRAQ – Two labrador retrievers will head to Iraq after the holidays to take part in the military's first therapy dog program, aimed at breaking through to troubled troops.
Commissioned as sergeants, Boe and Budge have been working with their new military handlers and undergoing preparations to acclimate them to the tumultuous environment in a war-torn Iraq. They've been subjected to helicopters, gunshots, and bombs. They have special ear plugs and jackets to protect them in the war-zone.
Their therapy training ended a while ago – and the two are primed and prepped to play, cuddle, and lift the spirits of war-saddened troops.
The dogs are headed to Mosul and Tikrit, where their sensitive demeanor and high energy are hoped to provide a positive presence.
Trained by America's VetDogs, the labs were chosen for their sensitive, playful personalities. Trainer Mike Sargeant says the 2-year-olds have been training non-stop since the Army asked him about the project a few months ago.
They'll be working with two specially chosen military occupational-therapy assistants – sent stateside to work with the dogs.
Sargeant says the difference between therapy and service dogs is their response to human emotion. He says they're trained to be aware of how we're feeling, and to be “completely non-judgmental,” a distinction that's hoped to help soldiers cope with their jobs.
Although the dogs will be working near the war zone, they'll spend the majority of their time in the barracks, far from danger.
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