An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 28, 2024

A Coast Guardsmen's best friend

By Jason Allred, MyCG Web Editor

"Military working dog" (MWD) is often associated with a sense of stoicism and dedication to duty that extends beyond the standard call of duty. It may evoke images of German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, or other iconic military breeds. Typically, you would associate drug detection dogs and bomb sniffing dogs with disciplined, battle-worn dog handlers. Dogs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and yes, dedicated service dogs can be utilized for a wide range of purposes.  
As our story starts, the lines blur between what you might consider to be regular MWD service and an emotional support animal. The first thing you'd notice about Chief Winston is his tendency to lean on you with his tail wagging -- something unlikely to be seen in a MWD on a deployment or working the front gate. It's not just acceptable, it's part of his job! He's a beautiful English cream golden retriever with a curious posture, a too-long tongue, a big heart, and a passion for helping members with the stress that is inherent to serving in the Coast Guard.  

Chief Winston's journey to work for the Coast Guard is an unlikely one. In 2019, Tiffani Collier, the D11 South Employee Assistance Program Coordinator (EAPC) and Winston’s handler, researched the science behind dogs and stress reduction after noticing the difference in morale at units with “station” or “cutter” dogs. Her findings led to a determination to bring an official support dog to the Coast Guard. She inquired with Thor’s Hope, a foundation that provides facility dogs to first-responders. At first, Thor’s Hope was hesitant, as they had donated only to fire and police departments in the past. Once Tiffani explained the unique role of Coast Guard first responders, her application was accepted, which started a two-year wait for a dog.  Finally, in September of 2021, Winston was introduced to the Coast Guard, in service of all Coasties in D11 South. In Spring of 2022, Winston was advanced to Honorary Chief, as it is a sea service tradition that all military working dogs carry rank.

How does Winston impact members?

In Winston’s official capacity, it is his job to “work the room”, which means to lean in (literally) with all members in the area. Facility Dogs are trained to provide support to groups, much as a service dog supports an individual, but he really means so much more to those he works with. Chris Zajaczkowski, a Coast Guard Special Agent at Base LA/LB, can't say enough good things about Winston: "Chief Winston is living proof (of) the positive nature a trained K9 brings to our environment specifically as it pertains to mental health. Anyone watching him work can witness the positive reaction he delivers and emotional support that we often do not realize is needed."  

Winston also supports Coast Guard events off Base, such as supporting witnesses in a criminal trial against the owners of the CONCEPTION dive boat, which was investigated by the Coast Guard after the deaths of 34 people. "The criminal trial was an arduous two-week event with many of the victims’ families present hearing and observing emotionally traumatic information about the tragic loss of their loved ones. Chief Winston was called to duty during the trial, and I was astonished to see firsthand how his presence uplifted surviving family members and friends of the deceased through their trauma. The family members were overjoyed to see Chief Winston and immediately approached him allowing him to work his magic – anyone watching could see the reactions from the greeting dissipate stresses caused by the traumatic courtroom event," said Special Agent Zajaczkowski.

A template for success 

His story and service are encouraging, and they're also a testament to what's possible. Winston has proven to be an inspiration for many Coast Guard units who have reached out to Base LA/LB for info on how to bring aboard their own Facility Dog. As Tiffani says, “Winston is definitely the most popular and recognized member of the office of Work Life in Southern California. You don’t have to be suffering to enjoy the stress relief that comes with spending a few minutes with a dog.”  

For help with a mental health concern please visit CG-SUPRT at (password uscg) or call (855) CG-SUPRT or find your local work life representative on the HSLW APP. 

In a crisis or having suicidal thoughts? Call or text 988. Worried for a friend? Ask the local police for a welfare check – don't hesitate.