Dogs helping human beings is a story that goes back thousands of years. Our four-legged friends and companions have helped us put food on the table, guard our caves and castles, and comforted us in times of distress. They’ve learned to herd our flocks and guide the blind. So it should come as no surprise that dogs are still finding new ways to support their human pack members. Joe, a black and tan Lab-mix, works at a military hospital located in Virginia and has one very special skill.
Joe works alongside Navy Lieutenant Commander Tracy Krauss. Krauss is a nurse that specializes in behavioral health issues, and is currently stationed at Fort Belvoir Community hospital. Together, she and Joe work with veterans suffering from a variety of psychological and emotional ills, just as many other therapy dogs and their handlers find themselves called to do.
Therapy dogs can help to soothe and support those who take comfort in their company, can help ground those whose illnesses cause them acute distress, and can reduce stress for those whose difficulties present them with challenges in their day to day lives. But Joe has more than empathy and a gentle nature on his side. He has a very special talent, one which most other therapy dogs don’t share. In fact, Krauss suggests that Joe might in fact be the only therapy dog utilizing this very special, very unique ability.
Joe doesn’t just help comfort those who are distressed—he can actually seek out those who are suffering and identify them. Whether they’re experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression, Joe is able to enter a room and determine who needs his aid the most. He greets each person he comes into contact with, and if he sense that they’re having emotional or psychological difficulties, he lays down at their feet. His willingness to reach out has helped many of Krauss’s patients take the first steps toward recovery.
Krauss, quoted in an article by The Dodo, says that “He’s identified 47 people showing signs of emotional distress. Seven of those people admitted to having a suicide plan.” She claims that Joe’s sixth sense for scenting out troubled hearts is never wrong.
While Krauss isn’t sure exactly what cues Joe picks up on, she speculates that it’s a combination of scent—like sensing pheromones related to stress—and reading human body language. Joe’s ability to identify those in emotional need is a lifesaving skill. Many people suffering from depression, anxiety, and related ailments have difficulty reaching out and asking for help. Joe’s able to help them find the strength to do so—because they don’t need to ask him to help. He takes the initiative to offer it.
Krauss says she can’t imagine life without Joe. It’s likely that many of the people he’s identified as needing assistance and support can’t imagine their lives without his intervention, either. Krauss points out that Joe’s skill is particularly important, because the earlier that treatment begins for mental illness, the better the individual’s prognosis is.