DAYTON, Ohio - A corps of canines roams the hallways of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Medical Center, a prescription of sorts for what ails patients -- and staff.
Pet therapy dogs, from the Miami Valley Pet Therapy Association, have brought bedside comfort to patients and to passers-by who snap pictures with smart phone cameras and reach to pet the animals as they scurry down hallways with a human entourage in tow.
At last count, with 20 dogs in the ranks, the program is considered the largest of its kind in the Air Force, officials said.
Dan Druzbacky, Wright-Patterson Medical Center director of staff, found himself a patient in his own hospital suffering from hip problems. Laying in a hospital bed, he petted Lacey, a blond-colored, mixed-breed dog eager to give attention.
Druzbacky needed relief after all the poking, prodding, pushing and pain of medical tests.
"It's not only the patients that need therapy, it's the staff as well," he said. "(The dogs) are a great stress relief.
"They're so calming," he said. "They don't expect much from you at all."
Studies show pet therapy lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, lessens depression, encourages relaxation and decreases isolation and alienation, among other benefits.
"Pet therapy is a proven thing," said Gerry Coen, Lacey's owner.
The dogs have free range throughout most of the medical center, visiting cancer to kidney dialysis patients.
"It just offers a stress relief, a sense of serenity and calmness," said Col. Pennie G. Pavlisin, commander of the 88th Inpatient Operations Squadron. "It's come to the point where many of our officers have dog treats next to the candy bowl."
Grace, a more than 140-pound blue and white Great Dane, has found a duty beyond "sitting on a couch all day," said Karen Loar, 65, of Springfield, the dog's owner.
"She does well as a therapy dog because she's very inquisitive," Loar said.
The dog sported antlers on a recent visit to Wright-Patterson.
"She likes to get dressed up," Loar said. "You want to think somewhere deep down by dressing up she's more approachable."
"She's on more cell phones today than you can shake a stick at," she said.
The dogs trotted in on a temporary basis two years ago for a tryout period, officials said.
After three months, hospital staff bought into the visits.
"They said are you kidding me," said Coen, 69, of Fairborn. "You can go anywhere."
The Miami Valley Pet Therapy Program trains the dogs in a 10-week, 20-hour course. The animals must receive recertification every six months, Coen said.
Last month, only 15 of 24 dogs passed the course.
The comfort-spreading pack has roamed all over the base: from welcoming home returning troops back from overseas assignments to a recent visit to the 88th Air Base Wing headquarters, she said. The canines visit area hospitals, nursing homes, schools and libraries and in some places cats and rabbits are part of the animal entourage.