WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US army will for the first time send skilled therapy dogs to Iraq to help comfort traumatized soldiers struggling to overcome mental health problems.
Black labrador retrievers, Boe and Budge, who have been in training for months, will be stationed with the Army's combat stress units in the Iraqi towns of Tikrit and Mosul to provide "emotional comfort" to the troops.
The two dogs were given to the 85th Medical Detachment by America's VetDogs, a subsidary of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, which provides dogs to veterans.
"Dogs have been the unsung heroes of our war efforts. Bringing therapy dogs into Iraq will take dogs to the next level on the battlefield," said Major Stacie Caswell, the commander of the 85th.
"The therapy dogs will be another method that our Combat Stress teams can use to break down mental health stigma -- to assist soldiers so that when they go home 'Iraq is not on their backs.'"
He said he planned leave for Iraq with the animals before Christmas.
Petting animals is well known to help reduce blood pressure and stress levels, and therapy dogs have also been used to provide comfort to elderly people and help calm children with learning difficulties.
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