WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo --
Team Whiteman's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office recently welcomed a new therapy dog to their office.
Apollo is a 3-year-old Labrador mix, who was rescued from an animal shelter and trained at Warrior's Best Friend, an organization in Liberty, Missouri, that trains service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.
“When Sajak, the SAPR office’s first therapy dog was medically retired last year, I began the search for a new therapy dog to join our team,” said Amy Creighton, the Missouri Air National Guard 131st Bomb Wing’s sexual assault response coordinator. “After speaking with several organizations, we decided to work with Warrior’s Best Friend. That group then began their search for the perfect dog for our program, and after several long months of waiting, Apollo was brought into their program from a local shelter.”
Apollo attended training in Liberty for several months learning commands to help serve the population that he works with at Whiteman Air Force Base. Along with all of his “good citizen” commands such as “sit, stay, down, shake”, he has also been trained on more trauma specific commands such as “block”. Blocking is a command given when a person needs a physical barrier between them and a crowd or another person to feel safe.
Creighton was teamed with the dog as his handler and after graduation in May, Apollo now reports to work each day with her in the SAPR office.
Since Apollo came into training from a shelter, Creighton was given the unique opportunity of choosing a name for him, a task that she took very seriously.
“I wanted a strong name that conveyed his mission within the SAPR office,” said Creighton. “It took a little time, but we decided on Apollo, which was the name of the Greek god of medicine, light, and healing. We hope he will bring light and healing to everyone he has contact with.”
Apollo is a trained therapy dog, not to be confused with a fully trained service dog. There are several differences between the two, but the most significant difference is a service dog is matched to work with one person performing specific tasks for that person each day. A therapy dog, like Apollo, is trained with the purpose of serving and helping multiple people that may need his time and love.
“Therapy dogs like Apollo offer time, comfort, and an unconditional and non-judgmental love that people who have been victimized often feel they cannot receive from a human in that moment,” said Bethany Harris, 131st Bomb Wing's director of psychological health. “Multiple studies have shown that sitting with, or petting a dog lowers blood pressure, lifts spirits, slows down a person’s heart rate, and has an overall calming effect.”
According to Creighton, Apollo’s mission is to be one of many “tools” in the toolbox of resources that the SAPR office has to offer survivors of sexual assault. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to working with victims of this crime, and the SAPR office goal is to offer as many options as possible to help victims onto their own personal path to healing and becoming a survivor.
Sajak, the SAPR office’s previous therapy dog, was retired due to medical reasons. He now enjoys a new role as a family dog in Creighton’s home. “I don’t think Sajak considers himself retired, really,” Creighton said. “Although he no longer travels into work with me each morning, it brings the whole family a great deal of comfort knowing that he will be waiting with his tail wagging to greet us when we get home each night.”
The SAPR office encourages everyone with base access to stop by and meet Apollo and get to know what services are available to base personnel and their families.
If you or anyone you know has been affected by sexual assault, Creighton encourages you to reach out to the SAPR team. The team is available 24/7 on their hotline at 660-687-7272.