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Therapy animals help Airmen cope with holiday stressors

By Allison Miller | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Dec. 13, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —

The Therapy Animals of San Antonio will visit the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Library for the Animals for Airmen event designed to promote mental health awareness 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Dec. 21.

Many Airmen are not able to travel home for the holidays making it a stressful time, and Animals for Airmen can provide a relaxing, quiet environment for them to visit with therapy animals.

“It is my hope that by bringing these animals in, we are providing an opportunity for connection during a time when the service member may feel forlorn or homesick,” said Nikkie Sierra, supervisory librarian at the JBSA-Lackland Library. “Providing a sense of community is what the library is about.”

The stresses of the holidays and the shorter days are common causes of increased mental health issues and therapy animals are proven to reduce some of the effects. Therapy Animals of San Antonio is an all-volunteer group organization whose mission is to bring people and animals together for healing, according to their website.

The idea for Animals for Airmen stems from another library event called Paws to Read, a children’s literacy program which also partnered with Therapy Animals of San Antonio.

“Our intent was to provide this program (Paws to Read) for kids who were struggling with reading. To our surprise, we had another huge demographic benefit from the dogs being in the library – the Airmen,” said Diana Lisenbee, supervisory librarian at the JBSA-Randolph Library. “As soon as the Therapy Dogs (Animals) of San Antonio came into the building, we had over 20 Airmen literally leave their computers, study tables, etc. and come running to pet and love on the animals.”

Lisenbee worked with the Military and Family Readiness Services and the Military Life Counselors to prepare the events. They created a display about coping and provided mental health information on topics like stress management and dealing with depression. More than 300 Airmen attended last year’s events during the holiday season, some of them staying the entire length of the 3 hour program.

 “The idea of libraries and books have always gone hand in hand, but we are so much more,” Sierra said. “In addition to doing the Animals for Airmen program we have a game room, virtual reality headsets, escape rooms, art nights and more as a way of providing free activities to the Airmen and their families.”

For more information, visit http://www.jbsalibraries.org/.