Therapy on four legs

By Tech. Sgt. Peter Miller
440th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

121111-F-XW024-001Air Force Reserve Capt. Allyson Dossman played an integral role on a surgical team during a deployment to Afghanistan, but still had a lot on her plate when she returned home to Massachusetts in January 2013.

She married another Air Force Reserve officer and started making plans to move with him to Georgia. Before leaving for the South, Dossman had to complete a few more shifts at her civilian nursing job at Boston Medical Center, which maintains the busiest emergency room in New England. Her job was always challenging, but she thought she had seen the last of shrapnel wounds when she returned to America.

Then came the bombing attacks near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day on April 15, 2013. Patriots’ Day is the state holiday commemorating the first battles of the Revolutionary War. Dossman was on duty at the Boston Medical Center trauma center when they began to get inundated with injured runners and spectators. Though she cared for some of the less critical patients, she recalled that week being very difficult and a joyless time for hospital staff until an employee brought in a puppy that happened to be a therapy dog in training.

“This random boxer came out of nowhere,” said Dossman. “I was like, ‘What are you doing here, buddy?’ Everybody swarmed this poor dog. The hospital received presents, baskets, thank you cards, especially from local schools. But, for me, it was that dog that made things okay.”

Dossman’s research has shown that petting a dog has been linked to reduced blood pressure, lowered heart rate and an increased sense of well-being. When she was deployed, Dossman looked forward to visits from a military working dog handler who brought his German Shepherd to the hospital after rough days. She said the visits were therapeutic and became one of the highlights of her deployment.

About a month after the attack,  Dossman moved to Georgia and joined the 413th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., as a traditional Air Force reservist. She also found fulltime employment with an organization that offers psychological health services to reservists. The Psychological Health Advocacy Program is marketed through the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program, which promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments at a series of training weekends around the country. The program began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.

PHOTO: Capt. Allyson Dossman poses with Basco, a military working dog, at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan, during her deployment to the Miranda Trauma Center Forward Surgical Team in 2013. (Courtesy photo)

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Therapy on four legs