A new program pairing child-abuse victims with dogs helps with healing | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
Favorite

A new program pairing child-abuse victims with dogs helps with healing 

“One of the things we know from the research is when kids are around dogs and they have that interaction, it increases the chemical in the brain called oxytocin.”

Page 2 of 2



Debbie McManus, Center for Victims grants and contracts manager, with Gryffin - CP PHOTO BY JORDAN MILLER
  • CP photo by Jordan Miller
  • Debbie McManus, Center for Victims grants and contracts manager, with Gryffin
One child in a recent therapy session was fixated on Gryffin’s whiskers. Despite the discomfort that all the pulling on his whiskers might have caused, Potts says Gryffin tolerated it for a while before calmly sighing and turning his head.

“Rather than reacting or responding in an inappropriate way, he knows how to respond in a way that is gentle for the child,” says Potts. “He didn’t upset her. He didn’t interrupt the process. He’s trained all his life for this.” 

As part of the Pups Providing Hope program, inmates at the State Correctional Institution-Forest have been tasked with training additional dogs for service. In order to participate in the program, an inmate’s behavior and interactions with other inmates and correction officers is evaluated. A pair of inmates is then assigned a dog from an animal shelter or foster program for intensive obedience training.

“I did a training with the inmates on trauma and the importance of what they’re doing and how it helps our victims here,” says Cindy Snyder, clinical director of the Center for Victims. “They were, without exception, excited about being able to give back to victims, and also excited that they were potentially helping to put people in jail.”

Six dogs are being trained right now, and a poodle named Cooper has been identified to begin working with children in July. Dogs that don’t end up meeting the requirements to work with children can go on to serve as emotional-support dogs in other settings or return to shelters, where they will be easier to adopt. 

“The rigors we put the dogs through in training are closer to what you’d see with a service dog,” says Potts. “We train for many things that therapy dogs do not go through.”

But despite the extensive training, canine advocates are limited in the amount of sessions they can do in a day. 

“The dog absorbs all of those emotions, so he can only do one or two sessions a day, depending on what the level of emotion is and how long that interview is,” says Potts. “Occasionally we’ll go from the CAC interview over to the hospital and do their medical interview with them as well.”

While the sessions take their toll on the canines, the aid they provide to children going through the legal process is invaluable in ensuring child abusers are convicted.

“One of the things we know from the research is when kids are around dogs and they have that interaction, it increases the chemical in the brain called oxytocin,” says Snyder. “And that happens to be the hormone that helps kids get connected to other people, it helps kids manage their stress, it helps make them less nervous and less anxious.

“If the child is less stressed in the interview, you’ll get better information. If the child is less stressed in a medical exam, you’ll get better evidence. And the child will be better able to testify when you get to court.”  

While the outcomes of cases involving children whom Gryffin has worked with have yet to be determined, his impact on the children is clear. Following sessions with Gryffin, parents are surveyed, and the feedback thus far has been overwhelmingly positive.

“What we’re looking for is for the kids to remember the good experience rather than the negative part of the interview and whatever may have been discussed,” says Potts. “Some of the parents say their kids would not have been as comfortable without him there, would not have been able to say what they had said without him there.”


Favorite

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Listings

CP Newsletters

Sign up to get the freshest content sent right to your inbox.

© 2017 Pittsburgh City Paper

Website powered by Foundation

National Advertising by VMG Advertising