Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Therapy Dog Raises Veterans’ Spirits
Army Veteran Terry Keith and his dog “Echo,” a Rough Collie and certified therapy dog, are two of the newest volunteers at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.
On July 13, Keith and Echo visited with Veterans who are undergoing treatment in the inpatient rehabilitation unit and will visit them every Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. to raise their spirits.
Keith, a disabled Veteran, said he wanted to bring four-year-old Echo to the hospital to thank Veterans for their service and also because he knows what it’s like to be hospitalized and undergo rehabilitation.
"These guys are here not by no choice of their own and I recognize that,” said Keith, who lives in Tahlequah. “If there’s anything I can do to make any of their days better, then that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Along with letting the Veterans pet Echo, Keith has the dog perform tricks and rewards her with treats. When Keith asks Echo to whisper, she barks quietly and when Keith says “speak,” Echo barks much louder. Keith also lets the Veterans give treats to Echo.
Navy Veteran Anderson Mabry enjoyed the tricks and having Echo around.
“It was nice of her to come and visit and lift morale up,” he said.
Vietnam Veteran Gerald Shane, who has been hospitalized since May 12, agreed that Echo is a morale booster.
“In between the therapies, she is good company,” said Shane. “It’s really nice to have a pet around. I have a cat at home and I really enjoy animals.”
Keith said collies are very calm and well behaved dogs, which make them excellent candidates to become certified as therapy dogs.
“They’re a beautiful and intelligent animal,” he said. “They’re very calm and if you’re going to do anything like this, it’s one of the best dogs because there’s no fear of biting. She’s just extremely calm.”
Roy Phillips, a Marine Corps Veteran who served in World War II, said he used to own a collie and was happy to visit with Echo.
“It’s certainly a mild mannered dog and it’s as pretty as a collie as I’ve ever seen,” said Phillips.
Keith, who is mostly home-bound due to a disability, said bringing Echo to the hospital not only benefits the Veterans but also gives him a reason and purpose to leave home once a week.
“I’m at home all the time and now for the first time in years I have some place to be every Friday at one p.m.,” said Keith. “I have responsibilities to these people because they know Echo is going to be here on Fridays and some people may expect her. So I can’t let them down.”