New Therapy Dog Program Brings Boost of Morale to 102nd Intel Wing

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lindsey Watson-Kirwin
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing Public Affairs
The newest member of the emotional support team at the 102nd Intelligence Wing here is an Airman's best friend.  Zoe, an almost two-year-old, vivacious black-lab mix, spends her days comforting members while sharing cookies and coffee.

The 102nd Intelligence Wing has become the first Air National Guard base to have an official therapy dog program supported by an operational instruction. Therapy dogs have been proven to have a calming effect on people who suffer from anxiety or PTSD.

Zoe was officially enlisted as a member of the unit during a ceremony held at the wing's annual Family Day on Oct. 2. Zoe then posed for pictures and greeted children and members.
"The therapy dog program sends the message to the airmen that their leadership does take their morale and unit cohesion seriously," said Jill A. Garvin, the director of psychological health for the 102nd.

The 102nd Intelligence Wing Commander, Col. Virginia I. Doonan wanted to establish a therapy dog program for wing personnel.  Garvin thoroughly researched how to best establish a legal and effective program to service the airmen at the wing.

"Col. Doonan is really invested in boosting morale here at the wing," said Garvin.  "Having been previously enlisted, she understands the stress of the various missions here at the wing.  As a new wing commander, she wanted to come up with an innovative way to support Airmen with a solid program."

Since the intelligence mission at the 102nd is ongoing 24/7 and requires crews to regularly work 12-14 hour days, the issues of sleep deprivation, stress, and anxiety among Airmen are constantly areas of concern. Garvin is able to take Zoe around the base, providing a calming friend for unit members to interact with.

Zoe's presence in the offices allows members who would not normally approach Garvin to start a dialogue, build a rapport, and leave the door open for future discussions. Zoe was rescued from an animal shelter about a year ago, and now with her handler, Garvin, she is helping to rescue others.
"When Zoe and I visit an office, you can see their faces immediately brighten," said Garvin.

Garvin was able to work with Heroes in Transition, Inc. to have a therapy dog donated to the 102nd. Heroes in Transition is located in Mashpee, Massachusetts, and their mission is to help veterans by providing assistance that is not readily available from other local, state, and federal agencies.

The founders of Heroes in Transition, Cindy and Kenneth Jones, reached out to Garvin a year ago to discuss ways their organization could help the members of the 102nd.
"They have formed a very special bond with our wing and have supported us in amazing ways this year," said Doonan.

Heroes in Transition paid for the adoption fees, transportation, and training of Zoe, and they also created and built a "reset room" for Airmen to relax and rest between demanding shifts. The reset room is a quiet place with recliners where crews can take a reset nap to either finish a long mission or drive home safer than they would have previously. Matt Noone, an expert dog trainer and the owner of Hynoone K9 Dog Training, is the trainer secured by Heroes in Transition.

"Matt is a dog whisperer of sorts," said Doonan. "He trains dogs for veterans and has helped many military members reintegrate into society with the help of our four legged friends."
Noone trained Zoe at his home for more than a month to prepare her for joining the 102nd family.

"At this point she if fully trained," said Noone.  "Jill [Garvin] and I will have an ongoing relationship for the duration of the dog's life to make sure proper training and behavior is maintained through all environments.  Zoe is wonderful at this point, I am very pleased."

Family and airmen were excited to meet Zoe during the base Family Day and look forward to spending more time with her.

"I know Zoe will bring joy and help enhance mission effectiveness across our entire wing for many years to come," said Doonan.