EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Eielson Air Force Base has two furry friends that assist in different resiliency capacities. Tessa is Eielson’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program service dog and Belle is a therapy dog who visits different locations around the base. Through the combined efforts of these canine companions, the Icemen Team receives a welcome reprieve from their busy day, and if necessary, a friendly acquaintance to confide in.
Each dog serves in a specific role to aid in raising morale throughout the Wing. In her short time at Eielson, Tessa has already helped several sexual assault victims come forward and receive assistance from the SAPR office; Belle visits with Airmen and their families at several different facilities each week, providing comfort and a break for each person who pets her.
Tessa is a SAPR canine in the Air Force. She is in a pilot program for assisting victims of sexual assault. Shellie Severa is Tessa’s owner and is also the 354th Fighter Wing’s head victim advocate.
“Tessa is a certified service dog who specializes in assisting the SAPR program,” said Severa. “She is allowed to go anywhere I go when a victim reports an assault. She can enter court rooms, police stations and even hospitals.”
Eielson’s campaign for sexual assault prevention is “One is too many.” Tessa is an advocate for this campaign, wearing the phrase on her service vest.
“The motto of ‘One is too many’ is a very important message to spread across the base,” said Severa.
All around base, Tessa can be seen with Severa in different shops and offices interacting with Airmen of all ranks. This helps spread her message as well as all of the services she provides.
“Tessa is the Icemen’s dog,” said Severa. “She offers a pick-me-up for the Icemen when she visits and will always provide comfort for sexual assault victims who wish to have time with her.”
Belle is a therapy dog who visits several locations around base with her handler Claire Robbins.
“Our job is to share smiles and joy with everyone we meet,” said Robbins. “Belle instantly changes the energy of a room when she walks in.”
Belle is a certified therapy dog. To keep her certification, she makes visits with various people and places and has to get a health exam once a year.
The most frequent places Belle visits are the USO on base, the library for Books with Belle, Anderson Elementary School and the 354th Medical Group.
“Belle is a valued member of the Medical Group and helps make it a great place to care for each other and our patients,” said Col. William Fecke, the 354th MDG commander. “When Belle walks through the clinic, you see staff come out and interact outside their normal environments. They take a minute out of their day to slow down, relax, provide and receive affection from Belle.”
While Belle visits the elementary school on Friday’s to see the children, she is also in the process of establishing a reading program. She is a certified reading education assistance dog and can provide help for children who may need extra care when learning to read.
“Belle comes into the school and immediately enriches our environment and makes it positive,” said Stacey Stansell, the principal at Anderson. “Most kids relate to pets and when they see Belle walk in, they are drawn to her. She goes into classrooms and reads with the kids, there are presentations given on Belle and they are able to share stories about their own pets. She opens up opportunities to build relationships with the kids.”
A key component to any Air Force base is resiliency. Belle helps Airmen improve their resiliency by being available for any shop or office to spend time with.
“All of us love Belle and appreciate the comfort and affection she provides,” said Fecke. “She promotes teamwork and social connection as a non-judgmental listener.”
Both of these dogs, though serving different purposes, bring comfort and joy to Icemen and their families. Sometimes, all you need is a little help from a furry friend.
*Tessa is a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response canine. All reports of sexual assault need to be reported to Shellie Severa and the SAPR office.*