SUFFOLK, Virg. –
Stress and anxiety come from a variety of angles, and sometimes from several fronts at once. Life can get so overwhelming that it can be difficult to find a mental exit ramp for respite or just gain proper perspective. It’s even possible that a person has no idea how much stress they are under until a tipping point is hit.
Enter Patty Mac, a lovable four-year old yellow Lab, with an extraordinary talent thanks to specialized training from the Florida-based non-profit organization, Southeastern Guide Dogs. Patty Mac is a facility therapy dog. Cmdr. Tracy Krauss, Officer in Charge, Public Health Specialty Leader, is Patty Mac’s handler. Krauss and her therapy pooch visited the DoD Suffolk Complex Sept. 22, touring first Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR), and then crossing the street to make the rounds at Naval Network Warfare Command and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command. There, a doggo in the work space proved both a novelty and a welcome break from the regular drum beat.
Patty Mac’s infectious presence was a show-stopper as she walked among workers in cubicles and office spaces, and even the watch floor, seemingly looking for a nose boop or a bum scratch (which she successfully found!) Patty Mac made the rounds from civilians to Sailors to senior leadership.
But it isn’t always all fun and games for the gentle pooch. Patty Mac is trained to recognize people in emotional distress, sniffing out things otherwise undetectable to the human nose. Elevated cortisol level and body language may be several indicators of possible suicidal ideations, and thanks to Patty Mac’s super sniffer, she can identify an over-stressed person who needs to take a beat and a deep breath before hitting that tipping point.
“Losing someone to a suicide or a suicide attempt has a far-reaching domino effect. If we can reach people prior to them attempting suicide, if we can catch them in the beginning phases of, “Hey I’m having a tough time with …’ whatever is going on, we have saved that person a lot of heartache,” said Krauss. “If we can just reach them beforehand and give them that ‘out’, give them somebody to talk to who doesn’t judge, who doesn’t care who you are, who doesn’t care about your rank, or if you’re military, a civilian, a child, or an adult … it’s a win - win all around. And of course, Patty Mac likes her job, too.”
True to typical pup form, Patty Mac offers a wet nose and unconditional love to whoever engages her, and even better -- no judgment calls. This immediate release of the pressure valve is crucial in encouraging someone to open up, drop the defensive wall, and be receptive to the needed assistance or counseling. Creating an environment that fosters open dialogue is an essential step in the right direction.
Cmdr. Robert Torrison, NAVIFOR Mental Health Specialist, witnessed Patty Mac’s contribution to the well-being and mental health of anyone who stopped to pet her. “I made the rounds with Patty and her handler, and I heard Sailors saying time and time again, ‘That just made my day!’ Her visit creates a friendly environment, and then the conversation flows. People love to talk about their pets. That common ground leads to a two-way conversation,” said Torrison. “Sometimes just talking in an unguarded manner can offer stress relief. I agree, it is a win - win situation. People are happy and you can tell Patty enjoys the attention.”
Nationwide, ‘Captain’ Patty Mac is one of approximately 10 therapy facility dogs serving in the Navy. Detecting excessive stress early is critical, and employing specialized dogs like Patty Mac is key in achieving this goal. “If detected and addressed early, we have the potential to save not just that member, but that member’s family as well a lot of grief,” Krauss said. “And then, in the long run, we’ve saved the Navy from as the negative impact on the command for losing that Sailor.”
To request a facility therapy dog visit to your command, contact your local branch health clinic. Patty Mac is cleared to tour everywhere from buildings to ships to watch floors. Whether a command experiences an adverse event or a bump in moral is needed, Patty mac is standing by to lend a helping paw.
NAVIFOR’s mission is to generate, directly and through our leadership of the IW Enterprise, agile and technically superior manned, trained, equipped, and certified combat-ready IW forces to ensure our Navy will decisively DETER, COMPETE, and WIN.
For more information on NAVIFOR, visit the command Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NavalInformationForces/ or the public web page at https://www.navifor.usff.navy.mil.