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Injured soldiers, shelter dogs help each other

Soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and homeless dogs at the Washington Humane Society are helping each other out.

The arrangement — the dogs and soldiers get together twice a week at the Washington Humane Society — is producing benefits for both, according to an Army press release.

The soldiers get some time out of the hospital, and something to get their minds off their injuries. They take classes in animal behavior, learn grooming and practice training dogs. The dogs, meanwhile, get some attention and, through the training, become more adoptable.

The program got its start last spring when volunteers walking dogs for the Washington Humane Society — located across the street from Walter Reed’s main gate — noticed how patients would brighten up when the dogs came buy.

“They’re right across the street and we have an entire campus of recovering soldiers who have a lot of time in their days for the most part, and we have a lot of dogs and animals who need that extra human interaction and training and companionship,” Kevin Simpson of the Humane Society said. “So it was just seeing that need and figuring out a way to put the two together.”

“We’ve learned how to make dogs sit, recognize their names, how to heel, how to leave things alone without bothering it. Just a lot of training of dogs and their reactions and personalities,” said Staff Sgt. Ladeaner Williams after completing a lesson in dog agility and guiding dogs through a series of obstacles.

Williams is undergoing treatment at Walter Reed for post traumatic stress disorder. She thought that working with the dogs would be a good way to develop her interest in becoming a veterinarian. The dogs also have the added benefit of helping her relax.

“I look forward to this every Tuesday and Thursday,” she explained. “The dogs look forward to it. It’s kind of sad. You train the dogs and you come back the next week and they may be adopted, so you don’t get to work with them again. But it’s nice to know that they are being adopted and that the training is paying off.”

(Footnote: A staff member at the Washington Humane Society reports that a dog she impounded was adopted by a graduate of the “Dog Tags” program. “They’re making each other’s lives better than they ever could have been otherwise. The dog was sure to die (as five of her puppies had) where she had been left before I found her, and her dad has found a new reason to get up in the morning.”)

 (US Army photo by Elizabeth M. Collins)