A child’s best friend: Introducing our newest staff member—Russell the Courthouse Dog
Nine year old Mark was brought to the Children’s Advocacy Center by Sheriff’s Deputies to be interviewed about physical abuse occurring in his home. Mark sat quietly in the waiting room, looking frightened and alone. Despite efforts by our advocates to reassure Mark that he was in a safe place, the young man remained quiet and wary.
Four year old Serena bore the bruises of her mother’s discipline, but did not want to talk to anyone about what happened. She cried at any attempt to get her to go into the interview room.
What is the best way to reassure children they are in a safe place to talk or to help quiet their tears? The answer is 77 pounds of unconditional love, with a wet nose and big brown eyes, he’s Russell, the Courthouse Dog. County Attorney Barbara LaWall was able to have the highly trained, two-year old Golden Retriever begin working at the Advocacy Center by using racketeering funds - meaning criminals paid for him, not taxpayers.
Russell sat next to Mark during the entire interview, resting his head on his lap. At one point when the interviewer left the room, Mark leaned over the top of Russell and confided, “Russell, this is really hard.” Russell nuzzled him with his snout, and the two enjoyed a quiet snuggle. When the interviewer returned, Mark bravely told what had happened to him, holding onto to his new ally.
Serena and I sat on the couch in the playroom. With Russell between us, she stroked his ears, commenting on how soft they were and how big he was. She said she was afraid of big dogs, but not Russell because he was nice and would not hurt anyone. After a while, she became interested in walking Russell on his leash. When I suggested she could walk Russell to the interview room, she happily grabbed the leash, walked to the room, and spoke with the interviewer with Russell by her side.
In the battle to avoid re-traumatizing children through the investigative process, it is important to use all of our resources- even if that resource has four paws, a wagging tail, and works for treats. Thanks to Russell, the Children’s Advocacy Center has one more caring member of its staff to help abused children begin the healing process.
Come back to our website for future stories about Russell- and learn about personal safety in Russell’s monthly column starting in January!