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Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center

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Canine Celebrity Visits Lovell FHCC

James A. Lovell pets a therapy dog

James A. Lovell pets Charlie, The Today Show's "Puppy with a Purpose." Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop.

By Julie Ewart, Lovell FHCC Communications Chief
Thursday, June 29, 2017

It’s not uncommon for patients at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Center to be visited by therapy dogs or accompanied by service animals. But on June 19, FHCC leaders, visitors, staff and even Captain James A. Lovell himself got to meet a celebrity canine – Charlie, the Today Show’s “Puppy with a Purpose” – whose training to become a service dog for a military veteran has been regularly featured on the NBC-TV morning show.

The year-old Labrador retriever’s stop at Lovell FHCC in North Chicago was part of his daylong trip to the Chicago area that ended with his participation at a Chicago Cubs baseball game. It was part of a weeklong national tour promoting the vital partnerships between service dogs and military veterans.

The visit here also provided Charlie with an opportunity to meet a very famous human – Captain Lovell. The retired Navy officer and Apollo 13 commander’s name has graced the FHCC since 2010, when the former North Chicago VA Medical Center and Naval Clinic Great Lakes were joined to become the nation’s first health care facility to fully integrate U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense resources, caring for veterans alongside military and dependents.

“I’m really proud to have Charlie and The Today Show here,” said Lovell during an interview with Comcast Sports Network Chicago, an NBC affiliate, in front of the mural that inspired the seal design for NASA’s Apollo program, which now hangs in the FHCC. “I love to see this facility get recognized for what it can do. It’s something like Apollo 8, because Apollo 8 was looking at new areas, new exploration, new territory. The Federal Health Care Center is doing the same thing.”

Patients gather to meet Charlie the therapy dog

Lovell FHCC residents gather at a Green House Home to meet Charlie, The Today Show's "Puppy With a Purpose." Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop.

In one of the center’s Green House long-term care homes, Lovell and dog-loving veterans and staff observed Charlie’s ability to “work a room,” winning over all with fetching demonstrations, paw shakes and unabashed requests for tummy rubs in front of the TV cameras. Residents were also thrilled to sit side-by-side with Lovell, with at least one calling a family member immediately afterwards to recount his conversation with the renowned space explorer.

Charlie won over patients of all shapes and sizes in the main hospital, from gleeful toddlers holding hands with active-duty military parents to veterans being escorted to appointments by their own service dogs, who glanced and sniffed at the young canine-in-training.

After completing his training in December, Charlie will be paired with a veteran applicant who needs a service dog to maintain an independent lifestyle through a matching with America’s VetDogs, a non-profit organization. The match will be made based on “the dog’s strengths and personality and the client’s lifestyle and needs,” said Charlie’s trainer Katie Ruiz, who accompanied him to the FHCC.

“We’ll bring the veteran into our facility for two weeks to learn how to better use the dog, and then we offer support for as long as the two continue to work together,” said Ruiz, who noted that while Charlie is famous, he’s one of many service animals learning the same skills through America’s VetDogs and other organizations.

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