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Army Veterinarian Hopes to use Children’s Study to Help Soldiers with Mental Illness


Major Taylor Opel, DVM and current Master of Public Health student at UTK, has been working with Dr. Zenithson Ng, Clinical Assistant Professor of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine, on a study at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital involving therapy dogs. The study is trying to determine if the dose of anesthetic drugs given to children undergoing sedation procedures is decreased when they play with a therapy dog versus an iPad. The results will hopefully show that therapy animals have a positive measurable physiologic effect on patients. Dr. Opel became interested in this study because the vast majority of therapy animal studies are qualitative, not quantitative. If the study results are positive they could serve as supportive evidence for Active Duty Military and Veteran’s Affairs healthcare systems in covering therapy dogs as a treatment option. Therapy dogs are increasingly being used for military members suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, however currently they are all being provided by civilian volunteer and non-profit organizations. Dr. Opel hopes to use the experiences she has had at UT to develop therapy animal programs within the Army to better serve its military members.

The study was highlighted by WATE in a recent interview –