Fletcher and Ringo
It is a wonderful feeling when an assistance dog graduates. All the volunteers, foster parents, and everyone at Dogs with Wings who helped raise that perfect dog celebrate the fact that someone will reap the benefits for many years to come. A child or adult, their family, their community, their school, or their workplace. It is an even greater joy when very special dogs are placed where they will literally help thousands of individuals and families in their communities.
Dogs with Wings had the great privilege of placing two of these special dogs last month. DWW Fletcher was placed with Zebra Child Protection Centre in Edmonton and DWW Ringo went to Chinook Arch Victim Service Unit in Olds.
The roles of Fletcher and Ringo are very different from the average assistance dog. Although they each have a primary handler to live with who takes care of all their needs, they have the ability to create instant bonds with many diverse people over the course of a day. Most of the clients they will support are children who have suffered an emotional or perhaps even a physical trauma.
These fragile little souls will be introduced to the dogs as part of the process preparing them to give statements to police or RCMP, discuss their case with crown lawyers, or even to testify before a judge. The Criminal Code does allow a witness to bring a support person into court, but there is usually a stipulation in place preventing physical contact between them. As support dogs, Fletcher and Ringo can be petted, hugged, or simply sit with their head on a child’s foot during testimony, providing the comforting contact children need. In some cases handlers can arrange for the dog to be sitting in front of the child so they can have that sympathetic eye contact which will help them tell their story to the dog. This not only helps dispel some of the anxiety, but is a proven coping tool while sharing their very difficult stories.
In April of 2013, DWW Lucy joined Camrose & District Victim Services Unit. Lucy and her handler, Michelle Hauser, have kept busy travelling around central Alberta supporting children and families. The mother of a young girl required to testify in a Didsbury courtroom had this to say:
The morning as we arrived at court (daughter) tried to disappear into another world by playing video games. However, that disappeared quickly when Lucy entered the room. (Daughter)’s eyes lit up and she asked if she could feed her. For the next few minutes she began to learn to train Lucy, a skill that would no doubt build her confidence as she entered court. She walked the dog and taught it to obey her commands. Giving her control of the situation and the dog’s wellbeing even straightened up her composure. During each break during court (daughter) didn’t sit down too often, but instead walked the dog back in forth in the hallways. All trauma specialists know that if you can keep moving during stressful events like appearing in court, rather than freezing in your chair, it is much better for your brain and body. (Daughter) didn’t cry once during court and her voice was strong. I believe Lucy helped in that process.
With DWW Fletcher and DWW Ringo on duty, this success story will repeat time and time again. In fact it has already started. Fletcher and his handler, Sarah Doolittle, finished team training on Friday and escorted a child into an Edmonton courtroom on Monday morning like he had been born for the job. Oh, that’s right. He was.