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Wade Freeman-Smith, 11, plays with Bear at the Yokosuka Fleet and Family Support Center on Wednesday. Freeman-Smith wasn't there for a clinical visit, but clients interested in counseling sessions can now include Bear, a certified therapy dog. The five-year-old pug mix began "volunteering" at the center about two weeks ago with counselor Yvette Currie.
Wade Freeman-Smith, 11, plays with Bear at the Yokosuka Fleet and Family Support Center on Wednesday. Freeman-Smith wasn't there for a clinical visit, but clients interested in counseling sessions can now include Bear, a certified therapy dog. The five-year-old pug mix began "volunteering" at the center about two weeks ago with counselor Yvette Currie. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The newest counselor at the Fleet and Family Support Center is a little hairier than most and seems to enjoy licking pants.

This rather wet therapeutic technique is quite effective when employed by Bear, a 5-year-old pug mix.

Bear is a certified therapy dog and has been on the job for the past two weeks at Yokosuka.

He comes with excellent references from his owner, counselor Yvette Currie.

Currie and Bear worked together in San Diego with victims of wildfires that raged across the state, and then with group therapy clients at the YWCA.

“He was very popular,” Currie said. “They got pretty attached to him.”

Bear’s strength lies in the way he puts people at ease, Currie said.

Currie has watched otherwise reserved people break out with a giant smile and lots of high-pitched compliments for the diminutive pooch.

Bear can be very helpful with clients suffering from problems like drug addiction, domestic violence and other traumatic events, Currie said.

He can also help children cope with the stress of constantly moving around, especially if they had to leave a loved pet behind, Currie said.

“Kids tend to flock to him. … Bear helps break the ice,” she said.

Bear has been certified by Therapy Dogs International, which evaluates dogs based on their friendly, even-keeled reactions in various situations.

Animal-assisted therapy in the military actually has a well-established history.

Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famous Mayo Clinic, used to take a dog named Smoky on his rounds while attending to troops in the Pacific during World War II.

Other clinics have used dogs, cats, birds and aquatic animals in helping put patients at ease after physical and mental trauma.

Theresa Yoshikawa, a counselor at the support center, had never used a pet during a therapy session until Bear came along. She was impressed by her patient’s reaction.

“Bear’s a calm little guy, and he was able to ease some of her anxiety,” Yoshikawa said.

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