HAMMOND — A 58-pound Labrador and golden retriever mix was the star of Monday’s gathering at the Child Advocacy Center.
Child Advocacy Services announced a new program called Powerful Paws for Children.
The program features a docile, male dog named Hayward whose job it is to provide additional advocacy and support to children and to give voice, healing and security to children, said Chief Executive Officer Rob Carlisle.
The idea to get a facility “comfort” dog at CAS has been in the works for two years, Carlisle said.
CAS is a nonprofit agency that provides services through the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, according to its website.
For the Hammond Center, Hayward has been a blessing and a joy, not only for the children, but the staff as well, Carlisle said.
The goal is to help children and families feel at home and feel like someone at CAS is listening to their story.
Hayward first meets with the family and then joins the family during the forensic interview.
“He listens,” Banks said, as she doled out a variety of commands.
During the process, Hayward does everything from shaking hands to closing and opening doors.
Banks serves as Hayward’s handler. She attended two weeks of training with Hayward.
During the interview, Hayward sits on a raised cot so that children can reach and pet him.
“He’s there to provide support and comfort that I can’t give during the interview,” said Director of Clinical Services Joelle Henderson. “He gives comfort so they can answer some of those tough questions.”
Following the interview, Hayward does a series of tricks, including smiling, for the youths.
“Some of the children that are reluctant to come back have said they want to come back now,” Carlisle said. “This gives them some purpose to come back.”
While a facility or comfort dog can cost up to $50,000, CAS received him free of charge and was only responsible for handler training, travel expenses and basic needs such as food and shelter for Hayward.
Carlisle said Hayward’s arrival was made possible by several community partners.
“Like everything we do at Child Advocacy Services, this has been such a great community partnership,” Carlisle said.
Hayward, who was trained by Canine Companions for Independence, was born Jan. 22, 2010, at Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood, Miss., where he was trained until he was 20 months old.
Canine Companions for Independence is a national organization that specializes in training service dogs. As Hayward gets more comfortable with his job at CAS, Carlisle said he hopes to send Hayward with victims to court.
In 2011, the National District Attorney’s Association adopted a resolution which supports the use of “courthouse” or “comfort” dogs to aid in the investigation of crimes involving young or vulnerable victims and in situations where these animals would aid in preparation for, or during trial or hearing testimony, CAS officials said.
Research shows that animals provide calming effects, positive physiological benefits and reduce anxiety in people, they said.
“A dog may help a child be calmer, more comfortable and secure, therefore improving the child’s ability to recall traumatic information during the forensic interview,” CAS officials said.
“If we have a child that has to go testify, we want him (Hayward) to be able to go with him,” Carlisle said.
When Hayward is not working with children, he is busy playing with the Banks family where he lives.
“He’s fairly silly,” Banks said. “He loves to play, he loves to love and he would fetch until he drops.”
Hayward, who wears a special “vest” while he is working, knows the difference between work and play, Banks said. As soon as Banks gives the “release” command, Hayward knows his work is done for the day and that it’s time to play.
Dr. John Wyble, chapter coordinator for Children’s Advocacy Centers of Louisiana, said community support is important for programs such as Powerful Paws for Children.
While the state mandates programs like Child Advocacy Services to help children, it does not provide funding to the organization.
“We have to make sure the victims receive services too,” Wyble said. “There is no more cost-effective model than a CAC.”
CAS offers advocacy, clinical services, and prevention education for children and families in Ascension, Assumption, East and West Feliciana, Livingston, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John, and Tangipahoa Parishes.
For more information about CAS, visit http://www.childadv.net/index.html.
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