Therapy dog opens doors to conversation and resource sharing for 168th Wing Airmen
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska —Excited voices echo down the hall and people start leaning out of their offices to see what is happening. Soon a group of Airmen are gathered together talking. In the middle of it all is a yellow lab wagging her tail.
The dog’s name is Kansas. Wearing a blue vest decorated with various squadron patches that mark her as a therapy dog, she and Jane Lorenz take a routine walk around the wing to visit Airmen in their shops.
Jane Lorenz, director of psychological health for the 168th Wing, acquired a therapy dog for the wing to promote open communication between herself and the Airmen of the wing. Kansas helps break down interpersonal barriers by starting conversations, creating a positive work environment and opening opportunities for Airmen to get to know each other.
Lorenz explained that she had the idea of acquiring a therapy dog for the wing after talking with other professionals in the field.
“I had heard how they were like magic and how people would come just to see the dog and be so thrilled,” Lorenz said. “When people walk into my office their face just lights up, so I know I made a good decision.”
The process of acquiring a therapy dog was relatively easy, she said. The wing commander wrote a letter approving a therapy dog.
With the commander’s green light Lorenz submitted an application to the nonprofit organization Southeastern Guide Dogs in Florida.
Once the application was approved a trainer from the organization brought Kansas to Alaska and provided familiarization training for Lorenz.
“She showed me how to work with the dog and all the basic commands, we started bonding, Kansas and I,” Lorenz said.
Master Sgt. Jason Dandurand, 1st Sgt. with the 168th Mission Support Group, provided a letter of recommendation for Lorenz during the application process and said he is excited to have Kansas join the wing support staff.
“When you have a dog, or any animal, there tends to be guards that drop with folks,” Dandurand said. “Having Kansas really opens up the avenue of conversation and getting to know people better.”
Lorenz explained one of the challenges of being the wing DHP is the perception people have about mental health and seeking help.
“I think there is a stigma with mental health where people don’t want to talk about it, but I think [Kansas] helps break that stigma down,” Lorenz said. “They come in and see that I am just a normal person, a social worker there to help.”
Although mental health is an important aspect of the job, the DPH office is available to help Airmen problem solve and provide resources for any type of concern. By starting conversations, Kansas creates an approachable environment where people can find the resources they need.
“Having that availability to start a conversation, even if it’s through the dog at first, it allows Airmen to connect to people who can provide them the resources to help them with whatever they are struggling with,” Dandurand said.
When Lorenz and Kansas are around the wing it’s common to find them with a group of people smiling and talking.
These conversations often help coworkers connect more with each other.
“They end up talking about their dog, the benefits of dogs, asking questions about Kansas,” Lorenz said. “They find common ground with Kansas, something positive, something that they enjoy talking about.”
As Kansas breaks away from the circle of Airmen and Lorenz says goodbye, the pair begin making their way to another shop. But the Airmen stay together a little bit longer, the conversation about life and its experiences continuing.
“In the Guard everybody knows everybody, but just because we see each other and we recognize each other, we don’t really know what is going on in people’s life,” Dandurand said. “Having Kansas here really opens up the opportunity to become even better of a Guard family here at the 168th.”