New facility dog assists children at River Bridge
If You Go...
Who: River Bridge Regional Center
What: Community Training with Frasier the facility dog
When: 3-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25
Where: Glenwood Springs Branch Library
How Much: Free, but must sign up in advance at http://www.courthousedogs.eventbrite.com
What: Courthouse Workshop
When: 9-11 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 26
Where: Garfield County Courthouse
How Much: Free, but must be a judge, attorney or courthouse staff member, and must sign up in advance at http://www.courthousedogs.eventbrite.com.
As of Monday, when children walk through the doors of the River Bridge Regional Center, they won’t just be greeted by the warm faces of the child advocacy center’s human staff. They’ll be sniffed, licked and loved by Frasier, a 2-year-old Lab/golden retriever mix who is working as the center’s new facility dog.
Frasier will accompany children throughout the process of sharing a traumatic experience with River Bridge staff during a forensic interview, attending therapy and even testifying in court against their perpetrators. Already, handler Meghan Hurley, who is the mental health specialist with the Garfield County Department of Human Services and the in-house therapist at River Bridge, has seen the positive effects Frasier has on the children who come to the advocacy center.
“We’ve actually gotten to see him with a few different clients,” Hurley said. “I said, ‘So now you get to have therapy with a dog. Does that feel any different?’ The child said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Why?’ and the child said, ‘Because I got to feel so loved throughout.’ And I said, ‘So how does that help?’ and she said, ‘It made me feel a lot less scared.’ And then another child was here for a forensic interview and said they appreciated having Frasier because it made all the scared feelings go away.”
Feeling comfortable is incredibly important for a child telling his or her story at River Bridge, Hurley said.
“I think the purpose of having Frasier is the same purpose as the entire advocacy model,” she said. “These kids need to be treated with a higher level of empathy to really help them have the confidence to tell. And so everything about the advocacy center is making it convenient for the child and comfortable for the child. And now a dog is just part of that — it makes them feel normal and at home and really can give them, hopefully, more confidence and courage.”
Frasier came to River Bridge from Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), an organization that has been around since 1975. It breeds and trains facility dogs like Frasier to help out at advocacy centers, in courthouses, in schools and anywhere else they may be of service. Its dogs go to puppy trainers at 8 weeks old, and they’re trained until they’re 18 months old. Then they go through another six months of training, where they learn more than 40 commands. Frasier was born and trained as a puppy in Colorado Springs before being moved to San Diego, where Hurley met him.
Hurley said the idea for a facility dog was brought up by Blythe Chapman, executive director of River Bridge, but Hurley was the one who stepped up and took the lead on getting a dog to the center. She presented the idea in a meeting with Garfield County commissioners, and an anonymous donor in that meeting offered money for her to travel and be interviewed by CCI.
Hurley met Frasier in San Diego at the beginning of August and spent 11 days training to be his handler. Frasier was set up with her because he’s especially good with children.
“They liked that he has this on/off switch,” Hurley said. “He can be super fun and hyper, but right away he can turn off and be so mellow and be there for a kid that just needs to love on him.”
When Frasier’s work day is done, he goes home with Hurley to her husband and two daughters.
“He stays at my house with my family, which is an added advantage, I think,” Hurley said. “He gets to come work all day and then go home to a couple little girls and my husband. So he’s a family dog, also.”
Community members are invited to meet Frasier and learn more about him from 3-5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library. Anyone planning to attend must sign up in advance at http://www.courthousedogs.eventbrite.com. A separate courthouse workshop will take place from 9-11 a.m. the next day at the Garfield County Courthouse specifically for judges, attorneys and courthouse staff. Those attending on Aug. 26 must also sign up at the same link.
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