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Around The Fleet

Joe Nose Stress

Hospital employee takes "paws" to identify people in need

Ambling down the hall of his new duty station, Cmdr. Joe draws a lot of attention from patients and staff despite his best efforts to go unnoticed.

Nonetheless, he happily stops to greet everyone who wants to see him all the while analyzing their behavior and evaluating them for signs of stress or depression.

He has a unique ability to draw people out and get them to talk about their problems. To date, Cmdr. Joe has identified 47 people showing signs of emotional distress. Of those, seven people admitted to having a suicide plan and mental health workers are actively engaging 33 of the others.

That's a great record for someone who is not a chaplain or behavioral health clinician.

He's simply "an awesome dog," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tracy Krauss, a behavioral health nurse at Belvoir Community Hospital.

A black and tan Labrador trained to detect a person in emotional distress, Cmdr. Joe will simply lie on the floor in front of a person he identifies as exhibiting symptoms. As he lays on the floor, clinicians are able to then engage the patient and inquire privately about stressful situations they may
be experiencing.

"We're not sure how Joe knows when someone is in distress," said Krauss, his handler of two and a half years. "We believe he can most likely smell the stress pheromones and read the body language of the patients."

Regardless of how Cmdr. Joe does it, there is no denying he is good at his job. Of the patients he has identified as exhibiting stress, none of them came to the hospital for treatment of stress or depression, though all willingly received a referral for mental health care, Krauss said.

Once, at an airport shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, Cmdr. Joe laid in front of a man who witnessed the devastation firsthand.

Without saying a word, Joe was able to alert me that this man was suffering," Krauss said.

"When I explain to people what Joe is trained to do and that he has identified them as someone in need of help, well, it's hard to lie to dog. He opened up while petting Joe, and I was able to tell him what resources he should seek in his area that could help him heal from the emotional trauma of that event."

Currently, Cmdr. Joe is the only stress-sniffing dog in the Department of Defense, but studies conducted by the University of Denver in Colorado have found that regardless of the type of skill they possess, the presence of therapy dogs reduce overall narcotic and painkiller usage among veterans.

Joe's ability to recognize when a patient is suffering before the patient discloses to a physician or medical profession is his biggest asset, Krauss said, noting that when a service member is lost to suicide there is emotional trauma as well as a loss of years of training and expertise, bringing a sizeable financial toll that translates to families and the workforce as well.

Cmdr. Joe is breaking down one of the biggest barriers to mental health by getting people help when they need it most, Krauss said.
  • Photo by Reese Brown.

    Lt. Cmdr. Tracy Krauss, a nurse at Belvoir Community Hospital, preps Dr. Joe for another day at the hospital. Photo by Reese Brown.

  • Photo by Reese Brown.

    Distress sniffing dog is here to help. Dr. Joe is trained to detect people in emotional stress. Photo by Reese Brown.