By Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely | 50th Space Wing Public Affairs
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Therapy dogs will visit with Schriever Airmen the first Tuesday of every month outside of the Building 300 auditorium during lunch hours.
The Violence Prevention Office organized the program to increase Airman resilience.
“We wanted to start pet breaks because we know people work in high stress environments and have limited exposure to going outside or taking a break,” said Jessica Ditson, 50th Space Wing violence prevention integrator. “Taking a break can be really helpful for your mental well-being.”
Ditson works with the Hope Animal Assisted Crisis Response to bring the dogs to the base.
“The dogs are trained to comfort first responders, children, people in hospitals, etc.,” Ditson said. “They know their job is to help people calm down, find center, find a smile and take a quick break.”
Ditson obtained leadership approval to secure a dog full time. The dog would have a primary handler who would take the dog home at night, and a secondary handler to watch the dog when the primary handler cannot. This process would take 14-18 months to properly train the dog and handler.
“When people stop by for a pet-break, they usually come with someone else,” Ditson said. “This will often spark a conversation between the attendees, and sometimes they start sharing things about their past. We’re building a connection culture here, and who would’ve thought it’d start with dogs.”
Anyone with access to the installation is encouraged to visit the dog. During the last visit, Ditson estimates Keeper made more than 250 contacts with Airmen.
“It stops mattering what pay grade you are, what job you have and it starts being about human beings sharing a common love for a certain animal,” she said.
Building stronger connections among Airmen can lead to stronger working relationships and teams who are better able to execute mission success.
“When the day is stressful and it seems your to-do list is longer than your arm, being able to stop to pet a dog can sometimes be the break you need,” she said.
Airman 1st Class Sophia Carbajal, 4th Space Operations Squadron advanced extremely high frequency mission control sub-systems operator, has three dogs; two mutts and a German Shepard back home with her family.
“Many times people stay secluded and miss out on building relationships outside of their squadron,” she said. “Events like these are really beneficial in establishing an environment where Airmen can network and take a break from their daily routine.”
In the Peterson AFB dorms where some Schriever Airmen live, pets are not allowed.
“This is a way to de-stress from the challenges that come with being in the dorms,” she said. “Dorm residents are new in their Air Force career and we sometimes struggle with being away from home and family. Bringing out dogs for Airmen who haven’t seen their pets can boost morale by making us feel at home.”
For more information, contact the Violence Prevention Office at 719-567-2647.