Facility Dog ‘Shetland’ Helps Next Generation of Health Care Providers

By Sarah Marshall

Future military health care providers are learning new ways to care for patients thanks to the help of a two-year-old Golden Labrador Retriever mix named Shetland.

Man shakes dog's paw. 
USU F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine Dean Art Kellermann
congratulates Navy Lt.Cmdr. Shetland, the university’s new Facility
Dog, after his “commissioning” into the Navy.
(Photo by Tom Balfour, Uniformed Services University) 

Uniformed Services University (USU) recently welcomed Shetland as its very own facility dog – making its F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine the first medical school to have a permanent, live-in facility dog. Shetland was officially sworn in as a Navy Lieutenant Commander during a ceremony today as part of USU’s Founders’ Day events. His mission: to promote wellness on campus while teaching the benefits and responsible use of Animal Assisted Interventions in health care, referred to broadly as pet therapy.

Service dogs, like Shetland, are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, supporting individuals with low vision, even mitigating the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy animals, meanwhile, provide comfort and affection in a variety of settings to help improve physical, social, emotional and cognitive functioning. To become a service dog, Shetland underwent four months of training with America’s Vet Dogs before he was selected as USU’s facility dog. He then completed several more weeks of training to ensure he was acclimated to his new “home,” where he has been making the rounds and working to fulfill his mission at the University.

“Shetland was greatly prepared for his role,” said Dr. Arthur Kellermann, dean of USU’s F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine. “He has been a huge hit with the students, and he has been a huge hit with the faculty.”

Animal Assisted Interventions have been known to be a tremendous asset to patient care, especially when it comes to our troops who often have unique health care needs, according to Kellermann. Bringing Shetland to USU will allow students to gain firsthand experience and exposure to Animal Assisted Interventions and, therefore, learn how to use facility dogs responsibly while understanding the benefits of using them. As students at USU graduate to become military health care providers, they will understand when and how facility dogs could be beneficial to the care of their future patients -- providing yet another way of supporting the unique needs of our service members and their families.

Man hugs dog.  
Michael Celone, a public health doctoral student at USU, gets a hug from USU's new Facility Dog, Shetland. Lt. Cmdr. Shetland was "commissioned" into the Navy on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo by Sharon Holland, Uniformed Services University) 

In addition to employing our next generation of health care providers to use a more holistic and integrative approach to medicine, the bright-eyed lab retriever mix will also be an asset to the University’s wellness program, which includes year-round activities geared toward promoting strategies to mitigate and reduce the causes and effects of burnout in all settings and career stages. Through direct contact with students, faculty, and staff, Shetland will offer yet another way of reducing stress with his emotional support, on-command hugs and fist-bumps.

In the near future, USU hopes to incorporate the use of facility dogs into its curriculum, as the school remains dedicated to finding new ways to meet the unique needs of our military.