Dogs deliver comfort to military members as Red Cross volunteers

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Volunteers call it the best kept secret in the Red Cross. Ironically, it’s rooted in the organization’s beginning.

The Red Cross began as a way to provide assistance to those serving on the battlefield. Today, comfort dogs help provide that to military members in Hampton Roads and around the world.

Apollo, Erin Strickland’s 10-month-old pup, is one of the Red Cross’s newest volunteers.

“I think he has big shoes to fill,” she said.

He’s following in the paw-steps of OY, Strickland’s previous pup, who recently died.

“I think he’s ahead of where my other dog was at this age so, it’s good,” she said.

Good for the mission, that is, of bringing comfort to local military members.

“So the Red Cross animal visitation program allows us to connect with different military members of all walks of life,” Strickland said.

They meet military members where they are, from pre-deployment with young sailors pushing off for the first time to Visiting the VA Hospital, Naval Medical Center or Langley Hospital.

“When I feel their emotion, or when the dog can feel their emotion, it’s really fulfilling,” she said. “When you can see that the stress level drop in in the soldier, sometimes they’ll just share a story.”

They are also given special assignments when commands call for support.

Strickland and OY boarded the George Bush which has suffered the loss of several sailors to suicide.

“Sometimes you don’t really know the impact in one day,” she said, “but then the next time you see them, they’re talking about it, or somebody is mentioning it to me that they heard about it and it’s just kind of it’s not me, it’s the dog.”

Apollo is one of an army of dogs deploying in Hampton Roads and across the globe with the Red Cross bringing paw-sitive reinforcement to service members and their families.

“Whatever they’re doing, whatever they’re thinking about, is just gone and all they see is the dog,” said Red Cross Program Specialist Donna Carroll, “and their eyes open up and their smile is up and yea, you can tell it makes a difference.”

The mission of the Red Cross is to alleviate human suffering, she said, and who better to do that than man’s best friends.

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