(14) Molly’s first trip to the VA Hospital

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly:

A blog about a service dog and her veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the veteran and the family caregiver)


 Taking my service dog to a VA Hospital

Have you taken your service dog to the VA Hospital? After months of talking about it, we finally took Molly with us to the VA Hospital—a 150 mile roundtrip. We began preparing for the experience a few weeks earlier by dressing her in her service vest and practicing commands for brace and balance. Then, we took our 130-pound canine to the groomer for her spa treatment.

I drove to the hospital because my husband’s toes hurt when he drives and we knew the doctor planned more scraping of the areas where his toenails used to be. While trying to figure out an alternate route to the hospital since I mindlessly missed my off-ramp, I slammed on the brakes to avoid rear-ending the vehicle in front of me. Slumbering, Molly rolled into the space between the back seat and our seats, wedged helplessly on her back. By the time we arrived at the Denver VA Hospital, Molly jittered and William shook from an anxiety attack.

William and Molly at the VA HospitalMolly loves to work and William enjoys her company so once free of the car, they paraded towards the elevator with Molly’s plumed tail waiving proudly. The pair basked in the attention of fellow veterans and hospital workers, who were kind and gave them wide berth to pass.

Dr. Mike welcomed Molly into the examination room with William. Admiring her size, he explained his Yorke is small, hyper, and furry.

Molly sat next to William while the young resident and the supervising doctor worked on William’s toes. Molly’s brown, baggy eyes and occasional whimper explained that she understood William’s pain. For the next hour, I watched as William relaxed by scratching behind Molly’s floppy ears, barely Molly waits for Williamacknowledging the doctor’s skilled hands.

Intrepid about a lunch stop at Burger King on the way home, William settled her by a side door. Too large to fit under the table, she stretched out next to him. With the lunch hour rush, we realized that the door we sat near ushered in the workers from the three car lots in the area. Workers gingerly stepped around and over Molly, smiling with kind gestures. No one said a word other than, “Big dog,” “cute,” and, “Excuse me.” Restaurant employees smiled and nodded at us when we entered and carried our food tray to our table.

Our entire outing worked better than hoped. In fact, we gave Molly’s performance a perfect score.

The best accolade came from William when we arrived home.

“She helped calm my PTSD and kept strangers at a distance,” said William. “Now, if only I can teach her to dance.”

“Huh?” I did not understand what he meant.

“She keeps stepping on my toes when I lead.”

Being stepped on with four paws by a gentle giant is painful enough but imagine what that is like when you have just had both of your big toenails removed!



Today, Miss Molly announces a new awards program to recognize and honor businesses and public establishments that provide public access without reservation to veterans and others with service dogs. As Miss Molly experiences unrestricted public access, she will paw a Molly’s Dog Tags Certificate to the establishment, listing that establishment on this website. At the end of the year, we will ask readers to vote on the establishment that most impresses them for excellent public access for the Golden Paw Award.

If you have a business or public establishment you would like to honor for excellent public access, please complete the comment form below and send us comments about your experience. We will include that in our website posting for a List of Molly Dog Tag Certificates, sending the business an official certificate. That business will also be entered into our annual Golden Paw Award contest.

Please click here for details if you would like to begin a Golden Paw Award program in your area.


What should I pack for a trip to the VA with my service dog? 

  1. Plastic trash bags
  2. Paper towels (for drooling or indiscretions if the dog become afraid)
  3. Water dish
  4. Water in bottles to fill the water dish, as the water fountains and water facets tend to run slowly and should only be used for humans
  5. Dog food to feed after your visit on the way home; our trainers recommended not feeding the dog before the doctor’s visit, as it distracts the dog from working as the food digests
  6. Treats during the visit if given sparingly and discretely
  7. Service vest and credentials, which are not required but belay any questions about your use of your service dog in public
  8. Leash or harness, if your disability can accommodate either
  9. I hand out Mollypops, which are Tootsie Pops tied to business cards


    that tell about Molly. Many veterans enjoy the treat and feel a part of Molly’s experience when they read the card. Of course, this is an optional item and should not be given to someone with diabetes.

Post your Comments:

What is the best experience you have had with your service dog in public? Where did you go and were people polite and helpful? Please post your comments below

About the blogger

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her husband, William, and dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her grandchildren.