Blind World Magazine

Devil Dawgs and Dogs are Seeing Eye-to-Eye.

Friday, February 10, 2006.
Navy Compass - San Diego,CA,USA.

A small pack of 'Devil Dawgs' assigned to Marine Medical Hold Company at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) took advantage of an unusual opportunity recently to meet and greet dogs just as highly dedicated to mission completion as they themselves.

Only, those dogs took advantage of the same opportunity to do anything but their mission.

They, quite literally, were unleashed and ran wild.

Rewind a few months back and Anne Whittington, Diabetes Program Manager at NMCSD, who is legally blind, was in an elevator at work with her guide dog companion, Karl, when a nervous and stuttering patient asked if he could play with Karl a bit.

At first, she was protective of her canine friend and wanted to tell the patient no, but as she figured he meant no harm, she gave in.

"What was most remarkable I thought at the time was that this simple action of petting Karl eased the patient's stuttering," said Whittington.

From that chance interaction, the beginnings of a program incorporating pet therapy grew.

"Paws for Healing" has now brought patients at NMCSD together with the area's blind community and their guide dog companions to help everyone involved.

"The program combines pet therapy, therapeutic outings, and reintegration into society," said Whittington. "The Marines benefit, the blind community benefits, and the guide dogs benefit. It's a win-win-win situation."

Mike, one of the Marines who took advantage of the program, said he thinks any day away from the hospital is a good day, and the dogs made it even better.

"You can't help but smile when you are around them," he said. "They truly are man's best friend."

Mike, like Whittington and other proponents of pet therapy, believes that guide dogs are helpful to the healing process.

"They don't just help blind people. They help increase morale of everybody around them," said Mike. "I think that they can see the results of accelerated healing that the dogs provide. The dogs bring joy to the patients, and a positive mental attitude is a strong factor in a person's healing."

The La Mesa dog park that served as the site of the outing, Canine Corners, was the result of volunteers in the area who love dogs and wanted to provide a safe environment for them to run off the leash.

Aside from the dogs having their fun, the community at large has been brought closer together with the blind community, who may not get the chance to interact as much as they'd like otherwise.

"Paws for Healing" takes advantage and integrates with the dog park's "Guide Dogs Day Out," during which a large section of the park is reserved especially for the guide dogs and their blind companions to enjoy.

The event happens once a month on every third Thursday and volunteers help describe the dogs' playfulness to their blind friends.

Later, the Marines and other volunteers help with food service at a picnic.

Mike said the trip to La Mesa was worth his time, and he'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys being with dogs.

"The best thing about the day was playing with and petting all the dogs while enjoying the weather and the world class city of San Diego," said Mike. "I would just like to thank Anne and Karl and everybody else who made this possible and also to the couple that raised the money for the dog park. It was a wonderful idea."

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