By Abby Lutz
When he’s not working, Teddy Jenkins is ‘just a regular dog’ according to his owners. Teddy enjoys belly scratches, swimming and playing with his favorite red ball. But he knows when his work bag comes out and his bandana goes on, it’s time to get to work.
Teddy is a five-and-a-half-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever and four-legged Red Cross volunteer. He’s one of two therapy dogs serving within the Red Cross Northwest Region. Teddy and his owners, Clint and Tamara Jenkins, make regular visits to Madigan Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis McChord, visiting with wounded or ill military members and their families.
‘Team Jenkins’ has a goal of visiting the hospital and Fisher House once a month, along with the Soldiers Recovery Unit once a week, and for the last year have been working through challenges brought on by the pandemic to still bring Teddy’s calming presence to military families. If there’s an opportunity to lift spirits and bring a smile to someone’s face, they make sure to show up.
“Especially on a military base, we are inspired by ‘believing in a cause greater than yourself’ and what it means to serve others,” said Tamara Jenkins. “It’s just very rewarding to train a therapy dog, and it’s very rewarding to serve others.”
The reward is worth the years of work and training that Clint and Tamara have put into Teddy. His training started when he was a puppy. Teddy went through a vigorous training program with five trainers, multiple certifications, concluding with an intense Therapy Dogs International test. Still today, Clint and Tamara work with him daily on obedience and commands that will make him safer and more useful when in a hospital and Soldier Recovery Unit setting.
“You can’t put it into words,” said Clint Jenkins as he discussed what it was like to take Teddy into hospitals and other facilities. “You just see a parent relax as they see their kid being a kid for a minute, or even just seeing someone smile, it’s very rewarding.”
Yaleidy Torres heads up the Human Animal Bonding Program within the Red Cross Northwest Region. Just in July of this year, volunteers were able to make 175 animal visitations to serve up smiles for military families.
“It’s a very solid program,” said Torres, who planned an expansion of the program when she stepped into her role in February of 2020. The pandemic has created challenges, but Torres is still determined to grow this program throughout the Northwest Region to bolster support for service members.
“I see the benefits of this program,” said Torres, drawing from personal experience. “I don’t have a therapy dog, but once we got a dog in our house it helped my husband as he was transitioning out of the military with PTSD. I saw his demeanor and overall humor change.”
Right now, due to COVID-19 guidelines, Red Cross volunteers like Teddy are limited on what facilities they can visit. Torres, however, says she’s working right now to expand Red Cross animal visits and is working with veteran’s hospitals, state homes and even military transitional housing to see where the calming presence of pups like Teddy can benefit our troops.
“My overall goal is to have more participants in the therapy dog program so we can have people who go to all of those places,” said Torres.
Although there is extra certification and testing for therapy dogs before they can work on a base like Joint Base Lewis McChord, Torres says she would love to talk with anyone who might be interested in joining the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.
“Anybody who has a certified therapy dog, we are willing to work with them and get them going with the SAF program,” she said. Torres can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions regarding the Human Animal Bonding Program.