JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Brooke Army Medical Center commissioned a new, four-legged staff member with a penchant for spreading joy to the rank of United States Army major during a ceremony June 6. Budd, a Labrador retriever, will serve as BAMC’s new facility dog.
During his commissioning, U.S. Army Col. Kimberlie Biever, acting BAMC commander, administered the oath of office charging Budd with the duty to “comfort and cheer others.”
“As a major in the BAMC Facility Dog Program, you must set the example for facility dogs to emulate,” Biever said. “Your conduct and professionalism both with and without treats shall be above reproach with no barking or jumping without orders to do so. You are responsible for the smiles of humans … You will bring joy and comfort to all that need you.”
Biever asked Budd if he took these responsibilities without reservation, to which he responded with a nose bop.
After the commander affixed the rank of major to Budd’s vest, BAMC Command Sgt. Maj. Thurman Reynolds rendered him his first salute. Maj. Budd reciprocated with a raised paw.
As a facility dog, Budd serves a different function than that of BAMC’s therapy dogs. Therapy dogs are each owned by their individual handlers and provide their service to all of BAMC’s patients, staff members and visitors.
According to medicalmutts.org, facility dogs are similar to therapy dogs. However, therapy dogs only work occasionally on a volunteer basis, while facility dogs work full-time at their assigned facility.
Budd is owned and provided to BAMC by America’s VetDogs, an organization which trains and places facility dogs as part of the rehabilitation process in military and VA hospitals and is strictly available for BAMC staff members.
“Team BAMC is over the moon with Budd,” said Jennifer Higgins, special assistant for healthcare resolutions, who spearheaded the effort to bring Budd to BAMC. “They have been so excited to realize that Budd is for ‘them,’ and he is an employee wellness dog.”
Higgins recognized the need for a staff morale boost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I had been witnessing a rise in moral distress and exhaustion amongst staff,” she said. “COVID, as you know, has been hard on the medical staff more than anyone else. I was seeing seasoned employees quit, retire early, and leave the medical profession all together.”
Higgins points out that while Budd may be leading the way for the new Facility Dog Program, he is not BAMC’s first facility dog. That honor belongs to Koko, a Blond Labrador retriever who was first brought to BAMC’s Pediatric-Oncology clinic in 2013 by U.S. Army Col. Sean Hipp, chief medical officer.
“In the fall of 2012, I wrote America’s VetDogs asking if they have ever supported therapy animals in the hospital,” Hipp said. “One of the trainers, Ms. Valerie Cramer, found the message and said we had to support this. Her leadership loved the idea of a VetDog supporting a military Pediatric Oncology clinic. Ms. Cramer called me and by the spring of 2013 Koko was at BAMC supporting the beneficiaries and staff.”
Cramer is a service dog program manager for America’s VetDogs and is once again assisting BAMC with the placement and training of Budd.
“We are very excited to provide our second dog to BAMC knowing that the use of Koko, your previous facility dog from AVD, has been beneficial in your healing work,” said Cramer.
“I was particularly excited for the opportunity to work with the team you have chosen as handlers because I have worked with Col. Hipp in the past, and Jennifer Higgins is very dog knowledgeable,” she continued. “We at America's VetDogs know that through the use of a facility dog in a hospital environment that dog offers a great impact on everyone that it encounters each day. It is wonderful to know that your leadership believes that too!”