I think this story is a perfect example that when it comes to dogs; if you can dream it, they can do it.
Wink is a 2-year-old black Lab/Golden Retriever mix who is classically trained as a service animal with extra training to help her in criminal investigations, specifically involving children. She is currently based at the Uintah and Daggett County Children’s Justice Center where administrators use her to help children feel comfortable when discussing difficult, crime-related topics.
Out of 20 Children’s Justice Center (CJC) locations in Utah, the Uintah and Daggett County facility are the only two utilizing these special service dogs. Dogs like Wink make the kids feel as safe as possible and help them open up and talk about difficult topics like abuse. The dogs make the whole investigative process less scary and smoother for kids. Because dogs are such intuitive creatures, they often seek out the child most distressed, and lavish extra attention on them.
During the interview process (which is often videotaped) children who have suffered abuse are more comfortable telling their story to the dog. Holding the leash gives them a sense of control and physical contact, and petting and touching helps lower anxiety.
Tonya Murray, director of the Uintah and Daggett County Children’s Justice Center believes that having a nonjudgmental presence in the room can make it significantly easier to broach difficult topics.
“Some of the anxiety just kind of seems to melt away,” Murray added. Wink has had a major impact on these kids, when they leave the CJC (after an interview), they tend to remember time spent with Wink rather than topics they discussed with investigators.
The initial goal of these assistance dogs was to help kids tell their stories through the interview process. Now the program has grown to include their presence in the courtroom. Wink is the first dog to appear before a judge and, after helping a child deal with what was likely an intimidating situation, the judge would gladly welcome her back.
“The dog has met all of my expectations,” he said. “I expected the dog to have a calming effect. And I think I’ll see Wink often.”
Tune in tomorrow for our next Service Dog of the Day blog.
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