Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
In Oregon prisons, therapy dogs help close the gap between parent and child
While Rachel’s husband, Sean, did his time at Columbia River Correctional Institute (CRCI), a minimum-security prison in Oregon, she struggled to maintain the parent-child bond between him and their three children. She brought them to the monthly family visits, but the atmosphere was austere, controlled and, for kids, dull. Families sat on metal benches around a table, and several families shared one large, noisy dining hall under the watchful eye of guards.
For Rachel, precious bonding time was often spent keeping her youngest, a fiveyear- old girl with Down syndrome, from fidgeting. The older children, ages nine and 13, distracted themselves, asking permission to go to the bathroom or the vending machine. Rachel often had to cut short the family’s visits.
All that began to change about a year ago, when therapy dogs became part of CRCI’s “Children’s Events,” special occasions for the families of inmates participating in parenting classes. Sean and other inmates involved in the parenting program constructed a brightly painted and decorated room specifically for family events, so that the setting might be homier. “Having the kids’ area was way better; no metal chairs anymore. Earlier, it was more restrictive than school!” he recalls now from the comfort of his home, reunited with his family after completing his sentence.Rachel agrees, and also mentions how much the therapy animals who were part of the family events helped their youngest daughter.“She’d talk about the animals for a week after each visit. They helped the older kids as well—got ’em away from the vending machine!”
Rachel saw her developmentally disabled daughter blossom around the dogs. “Animals help her communicate, mellow her out.We have three cats at home, and just got a Beagle. My daughter is learning to say ‘Good boy!’ and ‘Awesome!’ and give our dog positive reinforcement.” During the family events, both kids and parents learn how to interact with pets. “They teach gentle ways of interacting, because most inmates are abusers, or had been abused—that’s why they’re there— and the program teaches them how to pet rather than smack or pull a tail,” said Rachel.
This innovative program—putting volunteers with therapy animals into prisons during special parenting events —is the brainchild of three creative and compassionate women who blended several resources and programs to create a brand-new vision.
Rozlyn Gorski had the initial idea. She is involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters in Portland,Ore., and works with a subset of kids, Children with Incarcerated Parents. She knows how stressful and difficult maintaining a positive parent-child bond can be when a parent is incarcerated.
Gorski knows Heather Toland of DoveLewis, a Portland-area nonprofit emergency animal hospital with a large community-outreach and animal-welfare component.Toland is director of the Animal Assisted Therapy and Education program at DoveLewis. When Gorski wondered aloud if therapy dogs could help the kids she worked with, Toland quickly grasped the value of the idea, and signed on to help.
Gorski’s idea had merit. Toland possessed the ability to procure and train the volunteer handlers and dogs. But how to get them integrated into the prison family visits? Enter Dawnell Kirk,Western Regional Manager for Pathfinders, a nonprofit organization that contracts with the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide parenting classes to inmates. Pathfinders is also a community partner with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Kirk immediately saw the advantages of adding therapy animals to the family events, visits that were already a reward to inmates participating in parenting classes. Inviting the animals upped the reward ante significantly for the inmates, while also providing a clear therapeutic benefit to the families.
Kirk went to CRCI administration and asked, “What about bringing in some animals?”She then worked with the security manager to do just that. “They were so supportive,” she remembers. “We got the dogs in. They were a huge hit. The kids adore them. One gentleman said it was the first time he’d petted a dog in 10 years. It’s a nice place for children to learn to be with pets,”she says.“It’s a really good bonding moment for incarcerated parents and kids. Something to talk about with each other.”
Toland asked Kirk about bringing other types of therapy animals to the family events—in particular, a goat named Gracie. Once again, it was Kirk’s task to ask the prison administrator. “I’ll go down as the woman who got a goat into prison,” jokes Kirk. “Prison staff came down to see Gracie; everyone enjoyed it,” she said about that first event with the goat. Audie, a therapy cat, is also a popular visitor.
Indirectly, the animals help bring inmates into the parenting program. “Inmates not part of the program see the animals coming for the family events, and there’s more interest in the parenting classes,” which are voluntary, says Kirk. Each parenting course meets three times a week, three hours each day, for twelve weeks. “It’s very intense. It’s specific for incarcerated parents,” she adds. Those on the wait list can attend the family events with the animals, and a parent doesn’t have to complete the program to attend. Kirk isn’t worried that some inmates might sign up just for the animals, with no intention to complete the parenting course. “We track it,” she said. “It’s been a positive influence. One man signed up because he has three daughters. He wanted to be the class assistant. He was released to the community and has continued to participate at the Pathfinders Community Center with his daughters.”
Kirk’s next task was to approach Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP)—the maximumsecurity institution—about using therapy animals there. Kirk started warming up officials to the idea, describing the success at CRCI. She was surprised, and delighted, to be asked by the OSP assistant superintendent,“ Can the goat come?”Another door was opened. (Who knows—perhaps the OSP assistant superintendent was influenced by hearing how the CRCI superintendent had his photo taken with Gracie and used it as his official Christmas card last year.)
According to Kirk, the Oregon Department of Corrections supports the inmates as parents. Incorporating therapy animals into family events for those inmates participating in parenting classes is one way of making that support real.
The participating kids and parents all tell Kirk,“We want the animals back!”At every family event, the kids ask her,“Are the dogs here?!”Unfortunately, the animals aren’t available for every family event at every institution.Not yet. But if Kirk has her way, that won’t be the case for long. Just this spring, the therapy animal concept expanded to Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, the only women’s prison in Oregon, which already has a puppy-training program.
Kirk sees positive changes in the inmates interacting with the animals. “There’s a softening in their demeanor. Even those not participating in parenting classes ask to pet the dogs. It’s such a good thing. It’s therapy.” So far, she reports, there hasn’t been a single negative encounter, for animals, handlers or families.
Early on, those involved realized that the typical family visiting session at the prison was too noisy and busy for a basic “Reading-to-the-Dogs” program. They also wanted to include a humane education component.When the dogs come to a family event, everyone learns how to approach them and how to meet and engage appropriately; the kids learn how to brush the dogs, then are allowed to teach their fathers those skills. “The program is very new, but shows lots of promise,”Toland says.The idea is for the dogs to be a calming distraction for the children while inside prison walls, making the parent-child interactions more normal as well as providing a teaching opportunity and a communication bridge.
Toland determines which dogs and handlers participate in the program. “I keep pretty tight control,” she says. Volunteers take a skills-for-handlers course, and because of the dogs’ contact with multiple kids and the unusual environment, they also learn about coping skills for dogs. “Sometimes we have to help a handler recognize displacement in their dog, as in, ‘I’m done!’” Through DoveLewis, handlers can also take continuing- ed classes, such as silly pet tricks, massage and canine health.
This program—screening and training of volunteer handlers and dogs—is now a regular part of DoveLewis’s activities, along with its pet loss, blood bank, stray animal and wildlife care, and other animal welfare programs.
Penny and her dog Charity, a five-year-old yellow Lab, are volunteers in the prison program. Charity is a certified therapy dog, and the pair had often participated in Reading to the Dogs programs through DoveLewis. Toland mentioned the prison program to Penny and told her that this use of therapy dogs was different —for one thing, a thorough background check was required.“It sounded like something to try,” Penny says.
As their first visit to CRCI loomed, Penny recalls, “All day long I was hesitant.” She said to herself,“How can I get out of this? I was fearful for my personal —and my dog’s—safety. This was my first time visiting a prison.”
Two of the four volunteers going with Penny that day had participated before and they gave her tips on what to say,how to behave, what to watch for. Penny’s experienced mentors offered practical advice: Don’t wear denim (looks too much like inmates’ uniforms), no underwire bras (they set off metal detectors), and do wear a bright yellow T-shirt (DoveLewis’s color) so the group stands out as visitors.
Upon reaching the institution, the handlers went through security, starting with a holding room where cell phones, keys, jewelry and similar items were stored in lockers. Each of them then passed through a metal detector, alone. Their dogs were led through by a guard. “Charity acted as though this was a typical environment for her. I saw no sign of stress or anxiety. She was very calm,” Penny says.
Once inside, they were led to the family room.“It has cute decorations,murals, small furniture,”Penny says.“The inmates did all the murals, built the furniture, did the decorating. It was warm.” Then they were led to the cafeteria to meet the inmates. “All the guys were lined up in a row.We walked past them, 50 of them in jeans and denim. It was intimidating,” Penny remembers.
Penny and the other handlers brought their own mats and blankets for sitting on the floor with their dogs.They offered the kids books (each child gets one to take home), but mostly, “the kids loved brushing the dogs,” says Penny.“One girl kept coming back to brush Charity. I gave her lots of positive reinforcement.”
On a subsequent visit, in addition to Charity, there were two German Shepherds and a Rottweiler.“ Many of the kids were fearful of the other dogs. One guy said, ‘Last time I saw a German Shepherd is when he was pinning me down before I got arrested,’” Penny remembers, noting that the Rottie has painted toenails and a flower-print collar to make her less intimidating to the kids. The dogs are always on-leash during events. “It’s a therapy dog rule,” explains Penny.“The handler is always attached to the leash.But I can let a child walk Charity with both of us holding the leash.”
A couple of fathers without kids attended—they had ongoing custody issues, or their kids lived out of state. Those men were assigned to look out for the handlers’ needs.Penny found them all “amazingly polite.”At one event, the food served was pizza and ice cream.When a child offered some food to Charity and Penny politely said no, some of the fathers teased Penny, saying she was awfully strict and wondering if Charity was neglected.
“The flow of people during an event keeps moving,with only one or two kids at a time to keep the dogs from feeling overwhelmed,”Penny says.“It just seems to happen naturally. The kids are good at waiting for their turn. Charity got tired toward the end. She crashed when we got home.”
Penny believes this program helps make inmates better parents.“Many admit to me they’ve messed up and are paying their debt. They hope people will give them a chance. They really appreciate that the handlers and dogs treat them like regular members of society.”
One rule is that handlers don’t use names during visits. They remove all ID, even dog tags that have contact information. “Only one time did I feel slightly uncomfortable,” said Penny.“One inmate started asking me questions in conversation, but the questions got progressively more personal—too personal, I felt. He recognized it was too personal and changed the topic.”
Penny recalls how she mistakenly signed up for the first event at Oregon State Penitentiary. The maximum-security prison.Upon realizing her error, she figured she’d go anyway, but she then had a nightmare about it, so she backed out. She had similar anxiety about visits to the minimum-security facility, “but I had the nicest possible experience there.” Penny’s concerns are more for Charity than for herself—Charity, who has no choice in the matter, could be more easily victimized. Penny worries about even a minor negative interaction; she and Charity have too much invested in therapy dog work. “I don’t want to mess it up. I’d never forgive myself if Charity was traumatized.” So for now, Penny declines to volunteer for OSP visits, but continues to participate enthusiastically in the CRCI visits.
“This experience teaches you a lot about stereotypes of prisoners,” says Penny.“It’s been eye-opening,how appreciative, polite and considerate they are. It’s been good for me to see. They know they made mistakes, and they admit it. They’re trying to keep their kids from making mistakes, trying to be good parents. This restores your faith in humanity.Dogs help us do that. Charity is the connection; I’m just her chauffeur!”
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
[VIDEO] Writer/actress/“dog manager” Lorraine Goodman talks about dogs in showbiz
In our September issue, Lorraine Goodman gives us a behind-the-scenes look at Tiger, a rising dog star on the set of his first feature film. After putting a few dog years into last minute photo shoots (for everything from an Ikea catalog to Vogue), a national television commercial, and eight fruitless hours in David Letterman’s green room (bumped for the announcement about his girl troubles), the three-and-a-half year old Terrier mix got his big break earlier this summer. He went to work on The Son of No One, which “co-stars” such Hollywood luminaries as Al Pacino, Ray Liotta and Katie Holmes.Recently, Goodman talked to us (on camera, of course) about Tiger, who was “discovered” during a routine training outing in Central Park. An actress in her own right, with credits including a few seconds in The Departed, Goodman provides insider advice to Bark readers who think their dogs might be the next Benji.
Dog's Life: Humane
How Andrea Horikawa coaxed the wonder from a one tough mutt
Almost immediately after Andrea Horikawa adopted Vinny Love from a shelter in southern California, she had doubts. The Chihuahua mix with a dizzying tail challenged every dog to cross his path. She contemplated returning him to the pound, but realizing his days would be numbered if she did, she redoubled her commitment. As a result of three years of diligent, consistent and positive training, Vinny is now a well-mannered pup with an impressive arsenal of more than 20 tricks, including a handstand that would make a yogi jealous. (See the video at the end of this article)
We often hear stories about shelter and rescue dogs who shed serious baggage—neglect, abandonment, abuse—to rise above expectations. We decided to feature some of these special pups—and by extension their faithful people—as Bark Rescue Wonder Dogs because they make us rethink what’s possible. We begin with Vinny and Andrea. We asked the 22-year-old Laguna Hills resident how Vinny landed on his paws with such poise.
Bark: Are you a trainer?
How did you have this kind of success with Vinny?
What kinds of things were a good fit for you?
Do you use treats? A clicker?
So you’d be walking him on leash and he’d lunge and bark at other dogs?
Now when you see another dog, what happens?
How much time do you spend working with Vinny?
Does that include exercise time?
What have been the most challenging tricks to teach him?
How long did it take?
Have you considered a future in movies for Vinny?
Why did you post Vinny’s tricks on YouTube?
What do you think is ahead for him?
What would you say to any Bark readers who might be struggling with a dog’s behavior?
Dog's Life: Humane
Soon after Andrea Horikawa adopted Vinny from a high-kill shelter in southern Calif., she had doubts. The Corgi mix challenged every dog he met. She considered returning him, but realizing what that would mean, she redoubled her commitment. As a result of three years of diligent, consistent and positive training, Vinny is a well-mannered pup with an arsenal of tricks, including a handstand that would make a yogi jealous.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The World Championship Boatyard Dog Trials careens into Rockland, Maine, on August 12—get your dog’s sea paws on so he’s ready to hurtle across lobster crates, clamber in and out of a small boat, or accomplish any other bizarre mission the judges dream up. The winner will be featured in the Boatyard Dog column of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine, and gets to keep the “Pup Cup” trophy until next year’s trials.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Bear Dogs in Eco-Resort
Not many people commute to work on a boat. Even fewer can boast they travel to their job in a helicopter. But for Karma, boat trips and helicopter rides are all just a part of her job as a bear dog in the remote Canadian wilderness.
Karma is the first black Labrador to work at the Nimmo Bay Resort, a luxury helicopter adventure and fishing eco-resort on the coast of British Columbia. She and Oatie, an 11-year-old yellow Labrador, protect the guests and staff at this high-end resort when they’re out hiking in the woods or exploring the surrounding areas. The Nimmo Bay lodge is nestled in the Great Bear Rainforest, accessible only by helicopter or boat, so bear sightings are a frequent occurrence, especially during the fishing season, when they come down to the ocean and nearby river to feed.
Before life at Nimmo Bay, Karma had a rocky start; for the first two years of her life, she bounced from owner to owner. Then the resort’s owners adopted her and put her to work.
Though not your standard “bear dogs,” Karma and Oatie fulfill their roles with enthusiasm. On the trail, they race ahead, noses to the ground, then turn back when the coast is clear in order to check in with their hiking buddy. If they catch the scent of a bear, their body language changes dramatically; they stop, raise their hackles, and go ballistic with barking and growling. Oatie has even charged at some of the more stubborn bears and sent them on their way.
While the dogs are on the defensive when hiking, around the lodge they relax and become happy-go-lucky Labs again. They can often be seen perched in the front seat of a double kayak or balanced on the boards of a surf bike as they travel back and forth across Nimmo Bay, to and from trails and the tiny islands that dot the Broughton Archipelago area.
Last summer, Karma mastered the art of tightrope-walking the log booms that hold the floating lodge together, scaling them with a stick clenched between her teeth. She and Oatie enjoy daily baths in the glacier-plunge pool beneath the waterfall, and guests delight in throwing sticks off the floating wharf into the ocean for the dogs.
Karma and Oatie are best pals when on the job at the Nimmo Bay Resort—they even cuddle at night in their shared bed—but the off-season is another story. The two big dogs don’t do well when confined together in close living quarters with no wilderness to escape to during the day. And so, through a series of connections, Karma came to live with me in the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island.
City life took some adjusting to: Karma had rarely worn a collar, let alone been on a leash, which makes going out for a walk an adventure every time. She charges ahead of me, straining against the leash until she’s wheezing. When we reach an intersection, she barrels ahead, desperate to stay in the lead to look for bears.
When the beginning of the summer fishing season rolls around, Karma heads back to the Nimmo Bay Resort. Although it’s hard for me to say goodbye, I know that she’s living the ultimate in doggie life, out in the wilderness, collar-free, protecting others in one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the world.
Dog's Life: Humane
Q&A with documentary’s director Rebecca Ormond
On July 18, Gateway Guardians, a documentary about a handful of scrappy volunteers feeding and rescuing stray dogs in a blighted East St. Louis neighborhood, premieres. Filmed almost entirely by flipcam-wielding rescue and foster volunteers and Webster University film students, the documentary provides a moving, dog’s-eye-view of street packs and loners and their unorthodox saviors. We spoke with the film’s director, professor and independent filmmaker, Rebecca Ormond during the final days of editing to learn how this story reached the screen.► See details about the premiere and future screenings below. ► Look for our story about Gateway Pet Guardians in the September issue of Bark. ► Watch video trailer on page 2. TheBark.com: How did you sign on for the documentary? Rebecca Ormond: I am a film professor at Webster University and also an independent filmmaker. [The film’s producers Amie Simmons, Gateway Pet Guardians’ president, and Jamie Case, executive director] approached me not to make the film but to recommend cameras. In talking with them it was pretty clear that they really didn’t know what was involved so I thought it would be a really neat combination, since I’d volunteered [for about five years] with them anyway, to volunteer my services. My role was basically to handle all the technical stuff and just figure out how to use cinematic language to say what they wanted to say. [Another Webster University professor, Steve Schenkel, composed the score.] How did you make the documentary? We had a very loose plan. We bought these little high-definition flipcams. PJ Hightower [GPG’s founder and lead rescuer, who has been feeding the strays since 1995 and hasn’t missed a day since 2001] wore one and whoever rode with her carried one, and I gave them some basic instruction in how to film and not get in the way. The whole idea was to get a lot of footage with the animals the way they really act with PJ. The way we wouldn’t be able to get with a film crew. The basic idea was to see these animals the way she sees them, which is very personal. She has names for all of them. It’s like she has 200 pets. So the goal was to be as unobtrusive as possible. As fosters came forward, we would then hand a camera to the foster, and follow that dog through the foster system into their forever home. For almost a year, they would run these cameras. They’d turn in over six hours of footage to me a week. We just kept trimming it down, trimming it down, trimming it down. Very early on we followed Ghandi’s quote that you can tell a society by how it treats its animals as a really rough working guide. Beyond the foster folks and the volunteers is there anyone else in the film? In the longer film, there are people from East St. Louis—both who live there and who work there. My favorite person of all is a wonderful woman, Ethel May Taylor. She tells the story of her dog Tyler, who she was feeding as a stray, and PJ rescued and had neutered and then returned to Ethel. She talks about the joy that Tyler brings to her life. How were your students involved? We never sent them out on the streets of East St. Louis. We brought people from East St. Louis and the organization to my house to film. They filmed the interviews. They also logged footage. It was an enormous amount of logging, 10 solid months of six hours a pop with six different cameras running constantly. I would tell them… we want, at most, to log 10 percent of what comes in, so it’s your job to search through all six hours and decide what hour or even maybe what 10 minutes gets put in the log that I’ll eventually start editing. What did your students think of the group and making the documentary? Everybody is moved by the footage. Liz Pekunka (a graduating senior, film logger and second assistant editor) kept saying if I weren’t a student, I’d absolutely foster a dog now. From a technical perspective, this kind of shooting is quite novel right now because these little cameras are using a codec called H.264. It’s really amazing. We bought the pink cameras that went on sale on Mother’s Day for $99. They are just pinhole cameras; you can’t focus them or anything, which was important for the rescue workers because they’d just point and shoot. But these tiny cameras, the size of cell phones could hold six hours of high-definition 720p, 60 frames per second video. The quality is phenomenal. For my students this was one of the big things because filmmaking is so expensive … and here are these little cell phones generating a pretty amazing image. Sounds like a great thing for such a lean organization. Would they have been able to make the film otherwise? No. It was great because it was cheap and it was also great because it was so easy for them to do. The whole philosophy was if we go in there with a crew we’re not going to be able to get what happens. Only when PJ stands there by herself can she get this. After all your experience volunteering and fostering with Gateway Pet Guardians, did you learn anything new in putting the film together? Probably the thing that surprised me most is how much we were able to see in these packs of dogs the individual personalities of the dogs and how well PJ knew them. Even though I knew she had a really strong rapport with all the dogs it was shocking to see because she had the camera right on her hip. In the footage, the dog comes right up and bumps noses into the camera, and these are the stray, feral dogs that everyone’s afraid of. I can’t imagine that people aren’t going to be all over this film. As the director and someone who has been on it 16 hours a day for the past 6 weeks, I’m a little bleary. I don’t know. It might be great and it might be terrible. I can’t say. I heard a dog in the background. Is that a Gateway rescue? No. She is a rescue but I had her before I met PJ. I met PJ through her oddly enough. I had just bought my house and I was walking my dog. My dog was about a year old and she’s skittish with people she doesn’t know. So as PJ approached I started my whole spiel that I do with everybody, ‘She’s not aggressive, she won’t bite, but she’s probably going to hide behind me, she’s slow to warm up.’ PJ pulled one of her biscuits out of her pockets, and my dog took it out of her hand. When you started as a Gateway volunteer, did you ever think to yourself, this would make a great film? No, really I didn’t. The funny thing is, I’m not a documentary filmmaker. I’ve made a few and I’ve worked on a lot. But I’m principally a narrative filmmaker. It was one of those things where I’m the only filmmaker they knew.
Dog's Life: Humane
The pet food recalls over the past few years have taught us a few things. When you buy commercial dog food, your money goes to a corporation that’s likely far away from your community. You simply have to trust that the package label doesn’t lie and what’s in there is safe for your dog to eat.
But if you buy meat, milk or eggs from your local farmer, you can stop by the farm to see for yourself if the animals are treated humanely and whether you’re purchasing a quality whole food product. Liz Cunninghame of Clark Summit Farm in Tomales, Calif. offers a monthly farm tour so visitors can see the difference. She offers natural grass-fed beef, pastured organically fed pork, organic pastured eggs, sheep, goats, Jersey cows, geese, turkeys, meat chickens and guinea hens.
“If you care how the animals are raised, find a local farmer,” says Stacy Martin, owner of Yellow Wolf Farm in Lansing, N.C. “If they’re doing what they say they’re doing, they won’t cringe when you take out your camera. Talk to them about where your food and your pet’s food comes from.” Through a small farmers’ co-op, Martin sells natural grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs and organs to raw feeders. She is now moving to a larger property to meet the increased demand for sustainable whole foods for both people and pets.
Both Cunninghame and Martin have had pet owners specifically request grass-fed beef to help a pet with illness, such as cancer, or allergies to commercial foods or meat purchased in a traditional grocery store. “Seek the best quality you can find or afford,” advises Cunninghame. “Once you switch yourself, and understand how the animal you are eating is raised, you will never go back to conventional meats for you or your pet.
To find sustainable and organic local farmers, go to localharvest.org.
Warm sun, cold drinks, the crack of the ball against the bat. What says summer like the game of baseball? The only way to make a day at the ballpark any better is by having your pup in the seat next to you. Across the country, baseball clubs are giving fans the opportunity to do just that by offering a special “dog day” game and inviting folks to bring their pups along for the fun.
MLB Dog Days are listed below. To find out if your area’s minor league team is hosting a dog day this season, check out the schedule posted on the team’s webpage.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Chile adopts groundbreaking victim-support program
“We need dogs like these in Chile,” said Seattle Police Department videographer Cesar Hidalgo-Landeros. It was 2007, and Cesar and I were in the middle of editing a training video about courthouse dogs, professionally trained canines who provide crime victims with emotional support during the investigation and prosecution stages. We had just watched a film clip of a five-year-old girl telling courthouse dog Stilson how she had been sexually abused.
At the time, I had concerns about the U.S. legal system embracing the idea of dogs participating in forensic interviews and appearing in the courtroom; I couldn’t imagine Chile being receptive to the idea. The deadline for our video production loomed, so we dropped the discussion and got back to work.
Two years later, my consulting partner, Celeste Walsen, DVM, and I gave a presentation on our “Courthouse Dogs” program at an Assistance Dogs International conference. One of the first questions came from a young woman in the back of the auditorium, who wanted to know if we could come to her country to tell people about this concept. Celeste and I love to travel, so I said, “Sure,” and then thought to ask where she lived. She said she was from Santiago, Chile.
Months went by, and I was caught up in my job as a deputy prosecuting attorney. Then came the invitation. The young woman whose request we had so casually accepted, Cecilia Marré, turned out to be the director of Chile’s Corporación Bocalán Confiar, and in June 2009, she wrote with a formal appeal for assistance. I rushed into Cesar’s studio and told him about Cecilia’s invitation. I also said that this remarkable coincidence meant that he had to travel with us. To persuade him, I added that his work with the Seattle Police Department might make the idea of using dogs with victims more acceptable to the law-enforcement officers who investigate these crimes. Cesar readily agreed to accompany us, and also offered to help with translating our presentations to Chilean government officials.
To prepare, I studied up on Chile’s criminal justice system, learning that the country had only recently adopted the adversarial model long utilized in the U.S., and that Chileans are passionate about implementing trial procedures that assure justice for everyone. In the meantime, Cesar entered a three-minute YouTube video, “Dogs in the Courthouse,” in a contest sponsored by the Washington State Bar Association to find the short film that best demonstrated a Northwest perspective on “Justice for All.” Cesar said that if he won, he would donate any prize money he received to Bocalán Confiar to help them promote a courthouse dogs program. In September, just two days before our departure for Chile, Cesar learned that he had won both the judges’ and the People’s Choice awards!
After a long flight, we arrived in Santiago and were greeted by customs dogs sniffing luggage for fruits and vegetables. To our surprise, these Labradors were working off-lead, with their handlers standing by, monitoring their behavior. As the dogs went about their business, they also accepted a few pats from the passengers. What a lovely introduction to the country this was.
Cecilia picked us up, and asked if we would be interested in seeing therapy dogs from Bocalán Confiar work with a physical therapist treating a disabled child. On our way to the facility, she told us that in Chile, veterinary students sometimes become certified dog handlers and assist physical therapists. We also learned that in some countries, the term “therapy dog” has a different meaning than it does in the U.S. In South America and Europe, for example, therapy dogs are what we call professionally trained assistance dogs.
When we arrived at the clinic, we saw Alejandra Santelices and her Labrador Retriever, Peseta, in a cheerful room, working with a physical therapist and a little girl. Peseta sat patiently across a table from the child, who had a bowl of dog kibble in front of her. She painstakingly dipped a spoon into the bowl, filled it with kibble and lifted it to Peseta’s mouth. She was delighted when Peseta ate delicately from the spoon.
Our next meetings were with the family-crime investigation unit of the Policía de Investigaciones de Chile (PDI) and Servicio Nacional de Menores (SENAME) of the Ministry of Justice, a child–sexual abuse treatment organization, to discuss their interest in implementing a courthouse dogs program. Two detectives picked us up, and we had an exciting ride through an assortment of neighborhoods to their headquarters. As we were escorted into the building, we saw a formal line of police officials waiting to greet us. Cesar had told us that in Chile, people air-kiss one another on the right cheek, but it was still a surprise to be greeted by these distinguished gentlemen this way.
Once the salutations were over, we made our first presentation to a group of about 10 high-ranking police officials. With Cesar and Cecilia acting as translators, we explained how professionally trained assistance dogs could help children and their families during the investigation and prosecution of sexual-assault crimes. It was very hard to read their expressions—we couldn’t tell if they thought we were brilliant, or crazy. But when Cesar broke out Seattle Police Department sweatshirts and hats, their demeanor changed, and we knew we had at least connected on that level.
Our meeting with the SENAME staff was entirely different. Here, forensic interviewers, a family court judge and therapeutic counselors made up the audience, and within minutes, it was clear they were ready to try anything to assist children and their families through this difficult process. We were told that there is a great deal of pressure to keep intrafamily sexual abuse secret, especially if reporting it meant that the father would be removed from the home. The mothers’ intentions are good, but they can easily become frustrated with the prolonged process. Not only are they usually unable to support their families by themselves, they see that their abused children begin to feel revictimized by having to repeatedly describe what happened to them. Cases were often dismissed for these reasons and, even worse, the children were not receiving the therapeutic counseling they needed to recover from their experiences. Maybe the dogs could make a difference.
To our delight, we were invited to a second meeting with the PDI investigators, one at which the entire staff was present. This time there were smiles, and the detectives were on their knees hugging the dog Cecilia had brought with her. Apparently, they thought we were more brilliant than crazy. In a leap of faith, the police had decided to work with Bocalán Confiar assistance dogs and SENAME to make a Chilean courthouse dogs program a reality. The deal was sealed when PDI detectives gave us souvenirs from their department to bring back to the United States. The following day, Santiago television stations and newspapers covered Chile’s decision to begin a courthouse dogs program. Suddenly, the issue of child sexual abuse was big news, and this innovative approach demonstrated that the government was willing to do all it could to address the problem.
What a lesson in humility! I had thought that Chileans were unlikely to be receptive to this idea, but not only were they interested, they established and funded a national program faster than has been done in our country. Now, we are lagging behind.
Recently, Teo Mariscal asked if we would be interested in helping him establish a similar program in Colombia. “Sure,” we said. “We love to travel!” Stay tuned…
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