By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(May 31, 2018) Josiah, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever raised and professionally trained by nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence, was introduced this month by the Cricket Center in Berlin.
The dog will assist patients at the Cricket Center, which is the only child advocacy in Worcester County for sexually and physically abused children.
Executive Director Wendy Myers said she learned of the program about two years ago while attending a National Children’s Alliance symposium on child abuse in Huntsville, Alabama.
“There was one segment where we learned about facility dogs and the benefit to, not just staff for vicarious trauma prevention, but also, obviously, for our victims,” Myers said. “Lots of [child advocacy centers] are beginning to use facility dogs.”
Vicarious trauma is the transference of trauma symptoms from a victim to a counselor or worker as he or she is exposed repeatedly to stories of abuse and witnesses the pain, fear and terror the victims have endured.
Canine Companions, according to its website, was formed in 1975 and “enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships.”
Four types of dogs are raised and trained by the nonprofit: service dogs to assist adults with disabilities; hearing dogs for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing; skilled companions for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities; and facility dogs to work with special needs clients in a visitation, education, criminal justice, or health care setting.
Myers said it’s a two-year process to train the dogs, followed by a two-week training period for the dog owner.
“He already had all the training he needed, but I needed to be trained,” she said with a laugh. “On day four, I was matched with Josiah based on our needs, my personality, his personality [and] what his strengths and weaknesses are.
“We needed a dog that would be calming, a dog that would be able to sit here and be very quiet, and a dog that could sit in a courtroom and be very comfortable for perhaps long periods of time,” Myers continued. “He certainly fits all of that.”
She said a local veterinarian will provide services for the dog, and special funding from the Cricket Center Foundation would help pay for additional expenses.
“The cost will be minimal and we won’t be using any government funding for him,” Myers said. “We certainly want to make that clear, because I don’t want folks to think funding that’s supposed to be going for the kids will be going to the dog.”
While serving at the Cricket Center, Josiah will greet and visit with trauma victims, play games with children, help calm children and, eventually, he will help in a courtroom setting.
“He’s such a quick learner – it’s extraordinary,” Myers said. “And everyone is so enamored with him because of his demeanor. He’s just so calming” not only to children, but also for staff.
“Vicarious trauma is a real issue in this field, so he certainly is a calming presence for us as a team and we’ll be able to provide better services as a result,” she continued. “His primary goal is to comfort our victims, but certainly he’s helping us too.”
And the kids love him, Myers added.
“He’s met quite a few kids already and it’s amazing, because I feel like he can read what they want,” she said. “There was one child that was really excited and he was able to bring her down a little bit, and then there was a child who was really timid and he kind of crouched down and approached her really low … it’s really amazing how he can read emotions and sort of adapt his demeanor to whatever the child needs.”
At the end of the day, Josiah goes home with Myers.
“When the vest comes off, he’s a dog,” she said. “I take him and let him run and he’s just like, ‘yaaay!’ He understands when he’s not at work.”
While Josiah is already paid for, services, staff, and new and better equipment for the center always need additional funding.
Myers added tickets go on sale soon for the annual “Evening at the Hobbit” fundraiser at The Hobbit restaurant in October, and donations to the Cricket Center are welcome throughout the year.
“We’re in a period of growth at the center, not just because there are more victims of child abuse locally, but because as a community people are really starting to understand the long-term effects of abuse. And people are recognizing … let’s take care of these kids now,” Myers said.
“We’re really focusing on long-term goals, but we also want to grow the program in a way that’s beneficial to everyone,” she continued. “We’re really focusing on what will make our program better.”
Patients or insurance companies are never charged for services, which include therapy, mental health, and family advocacy, Myers said.
More important than donations, Myers said, is that people learn the signs and symptoms of abuse by visiting the center’s website.
“Sometimes we’re so busy in our daily lives we might not recognize something that could be happening to a child,” she said. “If nothing is happening, then no worries. But one simple phone call could really make a difference for a child, so learn those signs and symptoms and learn how to report.
“It’s easy – you just call here,” she added.
To contact the center, call 410-641-0097 or send mail to The Cricket Center, PO Box 97, Berlin, Maryland, 21811.
For more information on the Cricket Center or to donate to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, visit www.thecricketcenter.com.