JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Kaitlin Pruskowski was told her pet Sammy, a seven-year-old Collie-mix, would be a good candidate to be a therapy dog.
The doctor of pharmacy at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston didn’t give it much thought until Col. (Dr.) Jennifer Gurney, a critical care trauma surgeon, came up with the idea to establish a therapy dog program at the Burn Center.
With that opportunity for Sammy and herself and a few months of training to become a therapy team, Pruskowski created Project WOOF for patients and staff at the Burn Center.
“The benefits and healing power of the human-animal relationship have long been recognized,” Pruskowski said. “Animal-assisted activities and therapy programs have been implemented in both in- and outpatient settings and have demonstrated positive outcomes on patients’ moods, anxiety levels, pain scores and rehabilitation efforts. They have also been shown to have a positive impact on nursing and hospital staff.”
Due to the positive impact on both patients and staff, Pruskowski teamed up with Therapy Animals of San Antonio, or TASA, and got herself and Sammy certified to be a trained therapy team. She and Sammy, along with two other teams from TASA, rotate every Wednesday to incorporate their services into patient’s rehabilitation sessions specified on their rehab needs.
“To start of the program, we opened it up to outpatients or inpatients that are able to travel from their inpatient room to the rehab department,” Pruskowski said. “The initial visit was a success and I believe that the presence of the dog was a great morale-booster for both the patients and the staff.”
Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Guerrero, a rehab outpatient, was one of the first patients to incorporate Sammy into his rehab regimen. Part of Guerrero’s rehab routine involves walking on a treadmill in the Burn Center rehab unit. His first outing with Sammy involved walking him throughout the hospital and brushing his coat.
“I really enjoyed working with Sammy,” Guerrero said. “It made me realize that I could do this at home with my two dogs. Now, when my wife takes our dogs for a walk, instead of staying inside the house, I go with her and help her with them which is good rehab for me.”