By Danielle DeSimone

Maybe it’s the gentle thump, thump, thump of the tail. Maybe it’s the wide, friendly smile. Or maybe it’s that they seem to know exactly when you need something to – literally and figuratively – lean on.

Regardless of what makes therapy dogs so special, the USO brings some of these furry friends to USO locations around the world to assist in the organization’s mission of supporting service members and military families.

Research shows that interacting with animals can make an incredible difference – and improvement – in one’s physical and mental health. Studies have found that petting an animal can lower blood pressure and release hormones such as phenylethylamine, an anti-depressant. Other studies have shown that after petting animals, people were found to have increased levels of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin – all hormones that can play a part in elevating moods and decreasing anxiety and the feeling of loneliness.

With emotional and mental health listed as some of the top issues that face active-duty military families today, utilizing therapy dogs to help service members struggling with the challenges of military life is just another creative way in which the USO is supporting the military community.

Over the years, the USO has welcomed several, trained furry volunteers to spread joy at a handful of USO locations around the world. As part of a multi-part story series about our USO canine volunteers, get to know Great Danes Maverick and Apache, Aspen the Bernese Mountain Dog and Zeke the Golden Retriever.

-This was originally published on in 2021. It has been updated in 2022.