Therapy dogs help heal at VA hospital

Audie Murphy VA Hospital's Polytrauma Center introduces therapy dogs to wounded warriors

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SAN ANTONIO - Two specially trained dogs are now on the job at the Audie Murphy Veterans Hospital's Polytrauma Center, helping wounded warriors recover from their painful physical and emotional injuries.

Many of the patients have suffered catastrophic injury such as amputations, and nearly all are also hurting from psychological pain as well.

The dogs, Colonel and Kelsey, are trained as medical service dogs, but doctors say their skills go far beyond anything they can measure.

Patients like Jeremy Young, who was shot 12 times, has little use of one hand and wrist.

But it is the post-traumatic stress from the shooting that he finds the most difficult. He says since being allowed to lie next to a dog and even take the dog for walks, his pain has decreased.

"I feel safe with the dog with me. I feel really safe," he said.

Other patients who have suffered amputations find comfort in Colonel, who also lost a leg in a traffic accident.

His handler says the dog relates to the men in a silent way that few can see.

One veteran says his quiet calm was crucial in the first months of treatment at the hospital when he was wake up screaming from post-traumatic nightmares.

Others, like Jordan Cisco, who lost both legs and thumb in an improvised explosive device, says the dog breaks the ice regarding his new reality and creates a new normal.

"When I met Kelsey, it was just amazing. She just came right up to me and just started licking my face. You know, it might have been something good that I ate for lunch or something, but she doesn't care that I don't have any legs," said Cisco.

Polytrauma doctors say the proof is visible on the worst therapy days, when the warrior is at an impasse.

"There is probably not a pill on the planet or a mental health provider in the world that can get them through that moment, but I can tell you that this girl has come up during those times and has been able to turn the situation around in a very short period of time, " said Dr. Elizabeth Johnson.

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