Compassionate Fresno canine helps veterans in recovery

FRESNO, Calif.

Two-year-old Labrador Retriever Erica has a face you just have to love. When she's not lying down, she's hard at work with her handler David Balentine, visiting service members at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fresno.

Balentine said, "As soon as you put the vest and collar on her she knows it's work time and becomes more attentive to everything I do and say."

Several days a week, Erica accompanies David as he makes the rounds in the psychiatric unit. David says Erica's sweet nature can quickly change a patient's attitude.

"Everyone wants to pet her and say hi to her and she look up in their eyes and it's over," Balentine said. "Hi Erica and that's it."

Not only is Erica bringing a smile to many veterans faces, she's also having an impact on their healing process.

Dr. Jack Shantz explained, "Her entire training is to soothe and comfort and love to them and it's something that really diminishes their antagonism toward their care."

Dr. Shantz says in Erica's six months at the hospital she's helped many veterans during a difficult time.

"Working with our inpatients on a locked psychiatric unit, which is the first here in the VA in the country and we're just excited beyond belief that she's doing remarkable things for our patients," Dr. Shantz said.

Erica came to the hospital after being trained at the Compassionate Canines for Independence near San Diego. Staff members raised $20 thousand to pay for her. They say she has a gift that touches all.

Balentine said, "There's times where she senses people are hurting and it's just amazing she opens up and just goes to that person."

And hospital staff says it's just the right kind of medicine for our veterans.

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