All Thea Wasche really wanted was a dog to be her buddy, a friend to play with and go on walks with.
But when Wasche recognized the talent her golden retriever Lacey possessed, she knew it would be a waste not to share it.
“I saw something more that she could do besides just be a pet,” said Wasche, director of the Air Force’s 50th Space Wing Force Support Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base.
That something is to comfort military personnel returning from deployment, those hospital-bound and those in nursing homes. After logging an estimated 400 volunteer hours at Fort Carson’s Evans Army Community Hospital in 2010, Wasche and Lacey received the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross’ Hometown Community Service Hero award.
Wasche got the 5-year-old Lacey from a women’s prison in Canon City, where inmates train dogs to learn a profession. Lacey was in obedience training after she didn’t make the cut for a program where dogs assist the hearing-impaired. Wasche immediately saw something special in Lacey.
“She was the only dog in the whole room not barking and she didn’t need a choke collar,” Wasche said.
When she discovered Lacey had prior training, and witnessed her even and friendly temperament, Wasche enrolled her in a certification program with the Delta Society. After Lacey completed her therapy dog training, they were off to places like the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, a nursing home and the Ronald McDonald House to visit those in need.
“She is just such a loving dog, that’s sometimes all they (patients) need is to pet something soothing and soft,” Wasche said. “She is so mellow and a hugger for sure. She’ll get down on the floor for anyone and let them scratch her stomach. She’s just a perfect therapy dog.”
When the Army put out a call for therapy dogs to help with the Wounded Warrior program, where those returning from deployment are assisted with the transition to life stateside, Wasche signed Lacey up.
Now they help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and physical wounds, too. Lacey’s temperament allows her to work with all of them.
“She has absolutely no fears at all,” Wasche said, including wheelchairs, walkers and prosthetic limbs — which make some dogs nervous. “She just sees everyone unconditionally.”
Lacey is quiet and obedient. Wasche said she’s only heard her bark about four times — and each time a bear was in their Cheyenne Mountain-area backyard.
Lacey has let women in delivery clutch her paw, children tussle her fur and anyone who wants to take a picture with her.
“It’s very therapeutic for them,” she said.
Sure, Lacey has her “puppy moments” — she loves to chase squirrels — but never when she’s got her work vest on.
“She knows when she’s working and she’s totally different,” Wasche said, noting she gives Lacey two minutes of “wild time” at home after every shift.
They got a nice reward while participating in the last Veterans Day parade. Several children and adults recognized them and shouted out “thanks.”
“Taking care of people is where I get my satisfaction in life,” Wasche said.