Pup provides comfort to 349th MDG Personnel

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andrew Moore
  • 349th Air Mobility Wing

 In one of the many parking lots on Travis Air Force Base is a 1955 candy apple red Ford F100 with a dog kennel strapped to its truck bed. Unlike the truck, the kennel is ordinary and unassuming, yet its inhabitant is just as vibrant and eye-catching as the vehicle transporting her.

A six-year-old black lab emerges from the kennel and jumps from the truck bed ready to make her rounds. Adorned in a tactical harness, her spice brown name tape reads, “Baby Doll.” She sits next to her handler and awaits the next command.

Giving the commands is Baby Doll’s handler, Emmett Spraktes, 349th Medical Group Key Support liaison, and retired California Army National Guardsmen and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Spraktes and Baby Doll approach the 349th Medical Group building with a controlled ease expected from a working dog and her handler.

Upon entering the building Spraktes and Baby Doll are met by Airmen eager to greet the jet-black canine. The Airmen gently pet Baby Doll before returning to work. Work that, at times, can be stressful, emotionally draining, and hard on family life.

“I cannot walk this dog down the hall without someone wanting to stop and pet her,” said Spraktes. “It gives them that momentary relief from stress.”

Baby Doll thrives as an emotional support animal, providing a respite to Airmen who are engaged in the never-ending cycle of readiness taskers, preparing for deployments, or just trying to cope with the ceaseless stressors of daily life.

The connection Baby Doll makes with each Airmen she interacts with is undeniable. A connection, Spraktes believes, is intrinsic in nature with our four-legged counterparts.

“I see the reaction people have towards canines. I see the impact Baby Doll makes on each individual,” Spraktes said. “How they gravitate towards her.”

In addition to being an emotional support animal, Baby Doll is also a working dog and has logged over 600 hours of training as well as earned numerous certifications. However, Spraktes has ensured that Baby Doll is within the guidance to perform as an emotional support animal on a military installation–a role that has become vital as mental health awareness continues to be brought to the forefront in the DOD.

Baby Doll may be ahead of her time, but Spraktes envisions service animals like Baby Doll will play a key role in addressing mental health concerns within the Air Force and beyond.

“They make you happy in a very stressful environment,” Spraktes said. “They use these dogs in children’s hospitals and senior care facilities, why not here?”

To the 450 Airmen assigned to the Medical Group, Baby Doll represents more than an emotional support animal. She is a symbol of comfort which offers a brief moment of joy in the midst of a demanding and stressful environment. In the game of life stress often prevails, yet Emmett Spraktes and Baby Doll have found a way to illuminate the Airmen of the unit and alleviate any sense of stress. Even if it is just for a moment.