MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Therapy can come in many different shapes, forms, and sizes. For some, attending counseling helps during troubling times. For others, meditation helps ease the mind. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, has implemented a new kind of therapy.
MacDill recently employed the Paw Support Program in which its newest “Airman,” Khaos, the SAPR dog in-training, will provide therapeutic support to aid in the healing process for victims of sexual assault.
“The program will provide innovative support to our valued military members and personnel around MacDill,” said Col. April Vogel, the commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing. “We as a military must continue to strive for modern methods to support our Airmen.”
The new program targets barriers to communication.
“The ultimate goal of the Paw Support Program is to break down the initial barriers our personnel have in approaching the SAPR office, and placing the victims at ease once they have found their courage to come forward,” said 1st Lt. Diana Eldridge, the deputy sexual assault and response coordinator assigned to the 6th Air Mobility Wing. “We have an approved SAPR dog who has received his initial skills training and is ready to engage with Team MacDill.”
Khaos, found through a breeder, is now nine months old and has completed three weeks of full immersion training. During that time, he was exposed to new environments and taught how to handle various distractions.
Once Khaos completes additional training requirements and receives a certification for therapy training at a year old, he will be released to interact and assist sexual assault victims.
“The goal for Khaos is to provide comfort through a canine-human bond for sexual assault victims,” said Christina Roussell, the certified trainer working with Khaos.
The bond could also prove critical in the reporting process.
“This program will hopefully give sexual assault victims and survivors an extra bit of support to help them cope with the horrible trauma they have experienced,” explained Eldridge. “It is designed so that the therapy dog can be available to the victim from initial reporting through court martial or civilian trial.”
Despite being in training, Khaos can already provide support to his teammates at Macdill.
“The SAPR therapy dog can interact with all members, not only those who have suffered from sexual assault,” said Eldridge. “The human-animal bond is a unique bond that is beneficial to both the dog and the member, and goes beyond unconditional love and companionship.”
Moving forward, the SAPR office hopes to expand their program and welcome more therapy dogs to the team. These “Airmen” will be readily available to assist sexual assault victims, survivors, and the community whenever there is a need.