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Facility Therapy Dog Deals Out Morale Boosts at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune

By: Sarah Hauck, Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune Public Affairs , 
Published: 4/25/2019 3:09 PM

Their hands may be heavily calloused from hours of training but Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune’s facility therapy dog, Black Jack, doesn’t mind as Marines use those same hands to scratch behind his ears and pet him during mindfulness meditation sessions.

Black Jack, an almost 3-year-old black lab, works with Clinical Psychologist Julia Komelasky primarily at Camp Geiger School of Infantry (SOI), as well as within NMCCL’s Emergency Department, visiting with patients who have been admitted.

The duties of facility therapy dog like Black Jack, who has his own NMCCL staff ID badge, include helping Komelasky during each appointment with Marines. Black Jack’s presence during appointments allows Komelasky to walk Marines through mindfulness medication where they take in every detail of his fur, as well as helping with grounding (exercise to be in the present) techniques with Marines who struggle in public settings due to trauma.

Due to the training nature of SOI, explained Komelasky, a lot of the Marine she sees are young individuals away from home for the first time.

Komelasky also sees some of the permanent personnel at SOI who battle with combat trauma.

Black Jack is able to help with both ends of the spectrum as well as everything in between.

“He does a lot of great things,” said Komelasky. “Jack laying on their lap gives them a lot of comfort…He helps opening up a more comfortable place to open up to their emotions.”

Black Jack came to NMCCL a year ago, said Komelasky.

He originally started his training through America’s Vet Dogs out of New York as a guide dog, but was transferred to facility therapy dog program.

America’s Vet Dogs trains guide dogs and service dogs for veterans. “The organization that trained Black Jack is the same one that placed Sully with President George H. Bush last year before his death,” explained Komelasky. “We had the exact same trainer even. My trainer walked Sully out into the Capitol Rotunda to pay respects to the late President while he lain in state on national TV. It was cool to see.”

While training Black Jack learned basic tricks and tasks of service dog such as carrying bags, opening doors to include the handicap push pads, and picking up things Komelasky may drop.

Beyond his skills and assisting Komelasky in office settings with patients, Black Jack also helps in staff areas throughout the Medical Center and Camp Geiger Branch Medical Clinic.

“Of course his primary job is to take care of the patient,” said Komelasky. “Provider burnout, staff burnout is such an important topic for us to focus on. He just lights up the staff when he is present. It is very wonderful to see. I think it really does improve them. It is a really nice bonus. It is not his purpose, but it is important. We don’t always take care of ourselves as much as we should. Jack is great reminder of that. Stop and smile and laugh for a minute.”

The process to get Black Jack was lengthy, said Komelasky, but was worth it knowing the impact he makes with patients and staff.

Even patients who are not dog people ask to see Black Jack, said Komelasky.

“He made an immediate impact here,” said Komelasky. “He’s so much more than a service animal. He is one of us.”           


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