Driving down the highway, Linda Waterman spotted in the distance a hound dog meandering down the side of the road. Confused and concerned, she stopped and managed to coax the large animal into her car. After a lengthy visit to the veterinarian, the doctor gave her some insight into her new furry friend’s past. He shared that the dog would make it through, but his physical wounds would be permanent. He could tell that this dog had been used by someone to hunt bears in the Colorado mountains. Shaken but not discouraged, Waterman decided, war wounds and all, that this passerby would become a new member of her family. And that’s when Jasper the hound dog’s journey of helping others began.
NEW LEASH ON LIFE
Years and many therapy certification courses later, Jasper the Hound Dog became a staple at his local Army hospital. As part of the American Red Cross animal visitation program, he and his team visit wounded or ill military members and their families. Where there’s an opportunity to lift spirits and warm hearts, they make sure to show up.
ANIMAL VISITATION TEAMS
Red Cross animal visitation teams, just like Jasper’s, are active all over the world. The American Red Cross has animal visitation teams set up to support deployed military families stationed in the United States and overseas. From Walter Reed to VA facilities, furry Red Crossers are on the scene helping in a variety of ways.
Over the last year, medical and military communities have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Red Cross animal visitation teams have been by their side. When guidance changed, not allowing the teams inside access, they shifted gears. They switched to standing outside as a group with a round of smiles, tail wags and more to share their support. They made sure to be the first welcome and the last farewell of the day for rotating medical staff and patients in those grueling first few months.
When the COVID-19 vaccines became available, they leapt into action. Today, donning their Red Cross vests and hospital badges, animal teams show up to lend courage and a welcome distraction to all of those in line or drive-thru waiting to get a vaccine. Medical staff are equally excited to have their favorite fur partners work alongside them. So much, in fact, that some hospital staff now have Red Cross dog standups inside their departments. These cardboard cutouts always bring a smile.
A HEALING TOUCH
Red Cross Dogs, just like Jasper, use their training and calming presence to help and heal. Waterman shares, “I continue to be amazed by the number of persons who call out to Jasper- ‘How are you doing big guy?’ Nearly all passersby smile down at him. Children squeal with glee and hug Jasper’s neck. And frequently patients or medical staff will say, ‘Jasper! How did you know I needed to see you today?’”
Wherever they go, the Red Cross dogs turn heads, and people can’t help but smile. Many people don’t even realize the impact that animal therapy can make on their staff or patients – but the effect is immense. And just like Jasper and his military patients have discovered, their outward wounds may be permanent but their road to recovery is helped along the way by those who care.