HomeMediaArticle Display

Bolt the therapy dog breaks Alaska ice

Bolt, the therapy dog, helps 176th Wing.

Alaska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Amanda Plazio, 176th Force Support Flight, greets therapy dog, Bolt, Jan. 23, 2019, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Bolt works closely with 176th Wing Director of Psychological Health, Diann Richardson, as part of the licensed clinical social worker’s outreach to the wing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by David Bedard/Released)

Bolt, the therapy dog, helps 176th Wing.

Diann Richardson, 176th Wing Director of Psychological Health, regularly works with therapy dog, Bolt, as part of the licensed clinical social worker’s outreach to the wing. Following several months of socialization and training, the golden retriever became a nationally certified therapy dog. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by David Bedard/Released)

Bolt, the therapy dog, helps 176th Wing.

Alaska Air National Guard Col. Scott Coniglio, 176th Wing vice commander, greets therapy dog, Bolt, Dec. 20, 2018, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Bolt works closely with 176th Wing Director of Psychological Health, Diann Richardson, as part of the licensed clinical social worker’s outreach to the wing. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by David Bedard/Released)


When Bolt, a honey-colored golden retriever, saunters into a 176th Wing office suite, he's greeted like a star quarterback or a local celebrity. Because wing Airmen vie for his attention during these periodic visits, they often stock their offices with chew toys and dog treats in an effort to give them an edge.

One such contestant for Bolt's affections is Alaska Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Amanda Plazio, noncommissioned officer in charge of Separations and Retirements, 176th Force Support Flight. When the gregarious canine enters Plazio's work area, he knows she will have a chew toy waiting for him.

The retriever noses around in the NCO's office until he finds his coveted prize. In return, the sergeant gets to enjoy some valuable face time with the helpful hound.

Bolt is a highly trained, nationally certified therapy dog who works closely with 176th Wing Director of Psychological Health, Diann Richardson, licensed clinical social worker.

“A therapy dog like Bolt, is a very well-trained dog that knows basic commands, is friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and comfortable in many different situations,” Richardson said. “Additionally he provides comfort and love to others, can interact with a variety of people, is not aggressive, and listens.”

She said Bolt arrived in Alaska fully trained with 20 critical voice commands and four hand signals. His training is comprehensive and is a crucial component of his value to the wing.

Professionals at Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida, raised Bolt from a newborn pup to 10 weeks, giving him the socialization and training he needed before having him live and continue to train with a volunteer “puppy raiser” family for a year. He then continued his training as a guide dog for the vision impaired before trainers realized he was too social, a problem if he constantly wants to stop to ham it up with people and other dogs.

“Bolt is extremely social,” Richardson said. “He likes people. He likes other animals. He likes children. He likes to be in the mix of things.”

Disqualifying for vision-impaired work as his outgoing nature was, his canine charm was tailor-made for therapy work. Consequently, trainers worked with Bolt for 16 months before delivering him to Richardson.

Southeastern Guide Dogs sent a trainer to Alaska who worked with Richardson and her family for a week to ensure she had all the knowledge she needed to care for and effectively employ the well-schooled retriever in her workplace. The organization visits and reviews Bolt’s effectiveness and training annually.

“Bolt is my coworker,” she explained. “Bolt is an asset in my job as 70 percent of what I do is prevention, which means going into the squadron, getting to know people, and being a relatable and reliable entity.”

Richardson said her acceptance into the units soared when people knew she is nearly always accompanied by the affable canine. Still, wing Airmen often skip past her and focus on the friendly dog.

“For every 10 'Hey Bolts,' I get about two 'Oh hi Dianns,'” she said. “Which is fine because his job is to add levity, decrease stress, and be a nice diversion from work.”

Alaska Air National Guard Lt. Col. Matthew Harper, 210th Rescue Squadron commander, said he personally benefits from Bolt's visits, even if he has to occasionally play defense on his trash bin.

“He makes me happy … when he's not rooting through my garbage,” Harper said. “He takes your mind off whatever struggles you're dealing with.”

Richardson explained the therapeutic effect Bolt has on Airmen from a clinical standpoint.

“What I know from science is dogs are natural stress reducers,” she said. “They reduce cortisol in the body when you pet them, and they increase oxytocin levels, which is the feel-good hormone. Dogs can play a positive role in the psychological health of humans by reducing levels of depression, stress, anxiety, and loneliness.”

She said beyond daily stress, most people will suffer at least three traumatic events during their lifetimes.

“We are all walking wounded,” Richardson said.

To that end, she works to fight the tendency to resist help necessary to overcome adversity.

“Let's face it, there continues to be a stigma with mental health,” Richardson said. “Even just walking around, some folks may be concerned I might impact their career in a negative way by just talking to me, which is not the case.”

Bolt helps break down barriers so Richardson can have frank conversations with Airmen. If they need help, Richardson can refer them to several agencies on or off base.

“My role at the wing is to offer an external perspective for mental health challenges and, if needed, link service members or their family members to effective resources,” she said.

Trained to help different people in different places, Richardson said Bolt enjoys the advantage of getting to know the Airmen he works with every day.

“What's nice about a military-facility therapy dog is that the people at the 176th Wing are his main mission,” she said. “This is us. He's not going to schools or hospitals. He's working with Guard folks and their families.

“By now he is familiar with most work centers, recognizes a significant amount of people, walks around greeting folks at wing meetings, knows which service members give great scratches, and has comforted Airmen discussing difficult issues in my office,” Richardson continued.

And if he gets to gobble down a dog treat or chase a favorite toy, Bolt's visit with the Airmen he serves is all the better for it.

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.