How D.C.’s Elite Canine Corps at Walter Reed Redefines Service and Comfort for Presidents and Wounded Warriors

By GND Crew

Meet D.C.’s distinguished canines from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, renowned for their service to presidents and wounded warriors. These military dogs, part of the Walter Reed Bethesda Facility Dog Program, have earned medals of achievement adorning their uniforms and are ready to spring into action for a treat or a good scratch.

The “facility dog program” has been running for 17 years and boasts some of Washington’s most skilled working dogs. It has served as a model for therapeutic canine care at military institutions nationwide.

Notable additions to the program include Sully H.W. Bush, the beloved service Labrador of the late President George H.W. Bush, and Biscuit, the official pup of the Washington Capitals. These high-profile pups join the ranks of seven facility dogs, mainly labs, golden retrievers, and a German shepherd, each contributing significantly to their mission.

The facility dogs collectively engage in around 2,500 contacts with patients and log over 200 working hours per month. Despite the high demand for dog visits, the team manages to fulfill every request, offering endless attention, petting, and treats. If a dog feels overstressed, they are immediately relieved from duty.

The elite cadre of canines are “career changers,” initially trained as social service dogs by the New York-based nonprofit America’s VetDogs. Once in the facility program, handlers, including civilian and active-duty service members, identify each dog’s strengths based on training, age, and personality.

Project manager Amy O’Connor emphasizes that there’s a dog for every situation. Calmer dogs may assist in the chemo clinic, while more energetic pups work in pediatrics. The dogs play a crucial role in animal-assisted therapy, encouraging patients to walk, get out of bed, or turn over.

Each dog belongs to a specific branch—Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Army—and holds an honorary title reflecting their achievements and seniority. They are promoted ceremonially, fostering a strong connection with patients.

Nurse Lily Burch contributes to the dogs’ distinguished appearance by hand-sewing custom uniforms, ranging from a doggie green beret to formal dress uniforms. Despite the seriousness of their roles, the dogs bring joy and comfort to staff and patients alike in the pursuit of the “human experience.”

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