The “chief compassion officer” will be available to help comfort those who suffer from anxiety.
Captain Jason Haag, who spent 13 years in the Marines, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fortunately, he connected with a German shepherd named Axel who brought him out of the darkness.
As a result, he founded Leashes of Valor in 2017, along with fellow veterans Danique and Matt Masingill. The Virginia-based nonprofit connects veterans around the country with trained service dogs to help mitigate PTSD.
In November 2019, Jefferson College of Nursing and Jefferson Center for Injury Research and Prevention welcomed Haag and Danique Masingill, accompanied by a service dog named Maggie, to Jefferson for a panel discussion and Q&A.
The presentation held a special place in Dr. Marie Ann Marino’s heart. The Jefferson College of Nursing dean and former Navy Nurse Corp Reservist discussed that oftentimes, it’s the silent injuries that have the greatest impact.
“It’s because of this we have to educate nurses, physicians and all healthcare providers about veterans’ health and that many injuries sustained by service members cannot be healed by surgery or medications,” Dr. Marino says.
Now, Maggie has found a permanent home at Jefferson. With Dr. Marino as her trained handler, the Labrador will serve as the Jefferson College of Nursing’s facility dog and be available to help comfort those who suffer from anxiety.
Dubbed “chief compassion officer,” Maggie will encourage feelings of calmness and security for students, faculty and staff, in addition to Jefferson’s academic and community partners.
“Our goal is for Maggie to help mitigate moral injury and compassion fatigue and improve general mental health through companionship and affection,” Dr. Marino says.
While helping students manage the day-to-day stress associated with academic life will be an important job responsibility, that’s not all she will be doing. By being there for students, she will help them learn how to care for others by teaching them empathy, especially for patients suffering from PTSD and other disorders.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maggie’s arrival couldn’t be any timelier, Dr. Marino says. “These unprecedented times of uncertainty have demonstrated the need for an innovative tool to help the Jefferson College of Nursing family.”
We have to educate nurses, physicians and all healthcare providers about veterans’ health and that many injuries sustained by service members cannot be healed by surgery or medications.
—Dr. Marie Ann Marino
In fact, Dr. Marino was inspired to bring Maggie aboard during the early stages of working remotely when she read an intriguing article from the University of Virginia. The story detailed how Kenny, the UVA School of Nursing therapy dog, would host virtual sessions alongside his handler Edie Barbero, a psychiatric/mental health nursing professor.
“After speaking with Edie, and seeing what a positive impact Kenny had made on their community, I knew I had to make the call to Leashes of Valor,” Dr. Marino says.
Although she already took part in some virtual meetings, Maggie will make her official debut this fall when in-person classes resume. Once she arrives on campus, she will meet her secondary handler, Dr. Jennifer Shiroff. Maggie’s been trained to work in many settings and will interact with both individuals and groups depending on the situation and needs. Maggie also will visit Jefferson Health and make rounds to see patients and employees.
And while she won’t be physically clocking in, Maggie will follow a daily schedule and have her own calendar, as she hopes to maintain a positive work-life balance. After all, at 17 months old, she’s Jefferson’s youngest (and dare we say, cutest) employee ever.