Nowadays, dogs are used in a variety of different jobs. They sniff out bombs and drugs, and they assist people who have disabilities. In recent years, dogs have even become increasingly used for therapy. Their use in assisting former soldiers with PTSD has especially grown. But the practice of using dogs to help soothe soldiers and war veterans actually began during World War II with Smoky, the first therapy dog.
Smoky was found by a U.S. Army soldier named Bill Wynne when he was stationed in New Guinea. He decided to keep the tiny Yorkie, and she stayed with him in New Guinea for a year and a half. They survived 12 combat missions together.
During his deployment, Wynne caught dengue fever and had to spend several weeks in the hospital. Smoky didn’t come with him at first, though his friends brought her to visit him. The nurses fell in love with her, though, and asked if the little dog could accompany them on their rounds. In return, she got to sleep in Wynne’s bed at night.
She became an unofficial therapy dog during her stay at the military hospital. The wounded and ill men loved her personality, and even her mere presence had a calming effect on them. They especially loved to watch her chase butterflies and perform the tricks that Wynne had taught her.
This gave Wynne the idea to teach Smoky even more tricks to entertain his fellow servicemen. Eventually, she came to know all the basic commands. She could also ride a small, custom-made scooter, walk on a tightrope, and spell her name with cutout letters.
Smoky’s popularity spread, and they were invited to perform at military hospitals all over Australia. Wherever she went, Smoky brought smiles to anyone who saw her. Pretty soon, the idea of using dogs for therapy caught on, and a special kennel was built in New York to house the dogs being used for this service. Civilians even donated dogs to the war effort to be used to lighten the mood and hopes of wounded soldiers.
When the war ended, Smoky still toured hospitals with Wynne, visiting recovering soldiers. In 1955, she retired from her work, and she died peacefully in her sleep at age 14 in 1957. Though she did not receive any official awards in her lifetime, she was awarded the PDSA Certificate for Animal Bravery or Devotion in April 2011.