National Guard Therapy Dog Dies Weeks After Earning Alaska Commendation Medal

Sweetface "Nyx" Shelton, a therapy dog.
Sweetface "Nyx" Shelton, a therapy dog, attends an Alaska National Guard meeting after being awarded the Alaska Commendation Medal, Mar. 18, 2021, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. (U.S. Army/Petty Officer 2nd Class Victoria Granado)

Sweetface "Nyx" Shelton, a well-loved brindle-furred American Mastiff who served with the Alaska National Guard for more than three years, died April 9 at age 4 -- just weeks after earning a prestigious state medal for her work.

Her death came just over a week after her last day as the Alaska National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, or SAPR, program therapy dog.

Nyx and Ashley Shelton, a sexual assault response coordinator for the Alaska National Guard and the dog's owner, were awarded the Alaska Commendation Medal on March 18 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, according to a release.

"Our beautiful therapy dog, Nyx, has been diagnosed with lymphoma which is not curable. Typically, dogs only survive 30-60 days once diagnosed. Nyx is happiest at work with her friends so she will continue to work as long as possible in the Anchorage Armory. #akngsapr #saprdognyx," the Alaska National Guard's SAPR program said in a Feb. 25 Facebook post.

Another Facebook post announcing Nyx's retirement said, "She truly loved her job and her people."

In addition to providing emotional support, Nyx supplied therapeutic aid for the SAPR Program and Warrior and Family Services.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month; 6,236 service members reported that they experienced a sexual assault in fiscal 2019, according to that year's Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military.

Both combat and sexual assault are strongly linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, and therapy dogs can play a vital role in service members' healing process.

Whether it was accompanying a survivor of sexual assault as they testified in court or identifying and responding to stress among service members, Nyx "maintained constant readiness to serve her comrades," according to the news release.

State Family Program Director Octavia Thompson, "one of Nyx's coworkers," said that Nyx helped service members persevere through difficult moments.

"Without a doubt, her calm and comforting nature have had a positive impact on our program," Thompson said in the release. "We know that sometimes we have to discuss things that are uncomfortable or very personal, but as soon as people see her, they feel as if a friend is there."

As the military continues to grapple with how best to support survivors of sexual assault, Nyx "empower[ed] service members" and "directly contribute[d] to a culture of seeking and receiving help when needed," according to the release.

"I have seen her on multiple occasions just sit next to someone who has had a bad day, lean against their legs to let them know they are not alone," Thompson said. "I, too, have experienced her support on a rough day where she has come to sit next to me, put her paw on my leg and look to me as if to say, 'I am here with you.'"

A Facebook post shared by the Alaska National Guard SAPR Program said Nyx "passed peacefully at home knowing how much she was loved not only by her home family, but also her work family."

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