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Canine companions lift Oklahoma veterans’ spirits

BY SUSAN SIMPSON Published: February 22, 2009
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photo - Vietnam Marine veteran Dale Bruyere works with Ascot, a therapy dog, with creative arts therapist Dawn Truby on Thursday at the VA Medical Center.  PHOTO By  David McDaniel,  The Oklahoman
Vietnam Marine veteran Dale Bruyere works with Ascot, a therapy dog, with creative arts therapist Dawn Truby on Thursday at the VA Medical Center. PHOTO By David McDaniel, The Oklahoman
A stroke left Dale Bruyere partly paralyzed and unable to speak clearly. But the former Marine and patient at the VA Medical Center didn’t need words this week to show affection for a new friend.

Bruyere tossed a ball for Ascot, a trained therapy dog, then stroked the animal’s soft fur. Bruyere’s brother, Terry, said they used to have a dog like Ascot but lost him to canine cancer.

Ascot and another golden retriever-Labrador mix, Bhadra, are new employees at the VA hospital in Oklahoma City. They arrived last week from Canine Companions for Independence, a California-based nonprofit that breeds, raises and trains service dogs.

Ascot and Bhadra are facility dogs. That means they are assigned to the VA hospital and live with two therapists, Dawn Truby and Stephanie Welch, who also were trained by Canine Companions.

Both say patients have responded enthusiastically to the dogs, which arrived two weeks ago.

"The attitude of the vets has changed. They smile more. Our attendance has increased because they know the animals will be here,” Welch said.

Truby said the reason is simple. "It’s unconditional love.”

Several patients said the dogs are calming.

"When I get stressed out, I can come out here and love these dogs,” said Betty Irons, an Air Force veteran. "They are positive energy.”

The dogs seemed happy to help, sitting contently in the recreation room as patient after patient came by to pat their heads.

"They are able to grab on to that calm and pull it into themselves,” Truby said.