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NEWS | March 1, 2017

Therapy dogs and their handlers bring smiles to patients

Naval Health Clinic Charleston Public Affairs

Man’s best friend is helping Naval Health Clinic Charleston patients get a new “leash” on life.

Five therapy dogs – Jazz, Gonzo, Joey, Charlie Charizard and Little Charlie – recently joined NHCC’s staff to partake in the new American Red Cross Animal Visitation Program. The dogs, along with their handlers, who are Red Cross Volunteers, visit NHCC weekly to provide comfort to those in need of a little unconditional love.


“They’re a wonderful addition to our family,” said Navy CDR Amy Smith, NHCC’s Public Health Services Director, who spearheads the program for NHCC. “The dogs are here to provide love and empathetic support to our patients, who seem genuinely happy to interact with them.”


“It’s amazing how excited everyone gets when the dogs visit with us,” said NHCC Commanding Officer Capt. Elizabeth Maley. “I think the staff gets as much out of the program as our patients and visitors do.”


The dogs are required to undergo special grooming to be in the medical treatment facility and are specifically trained how to behave in hospital or special needs settings. Recognizing who needs their affection is an innate ability of each dog.


“They seem to know exactly who needs their attention and how to sit in the perfect position to allow a person to pet them,” said Pam Diehl, NHCC Red Cross Volunteer and dog handler.


Diehl’s dog, Jazz, a three-year-old Newfoundland, was certified as a therapy dog when she was nine months old. Diehl’s mother had been hospitalized at the time, and Jazz provided much needed comfort during the experience.


“My mom was sick in the hospital, and Jazz knew exactly how to sit so my mother could pet her,” said Diehl. “Jazz was born to do this; this is her gift.”


Ever since, Jazz has been bringing joy to patients who might not have been able to find happiness in their situations otherwise said Diehl.


Nichole Robinette, a Navy spouse who brought her one-year-old son to NHCC for care, said she truly appreciated the relief a therapy dog brought to her ailing son.


“It was great to see my son’s eyes light up when he saw the dog, even though he was feeling really sick,” said Robinette.


Erin Belcher, Red Cross Volunteer and owner of Gonzo, a seven-year-old Boxer Ridgeback, said the visits are just as rewarding for the dogs, who take pride in the exhilaration of their adoring fans.


“Gonzo loves people and basks in the happiness of everyone who loves on him,” said Belcher. “He seems to know he’s just as much a part of their (patients) journey to recovery.”


The dogs’ current schedules vary but the dogs in the program are available to anyone who wishes to visit with them while they are at NHCC.


For more information about the Red Cross Animal Visitation Program, contact Jeanne Carmichael at