POLITICS

Saskatchewan intervention dogs help calm and comfort victims of crime

06/25/2015 10:57 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
REGINA - After just three weeks on the job, Saskatchewan's first three certified intervention dogs are already helping victims of crime.

Merlot is stationed in Regina, Kane in Moose Jaw and Beaumont in Estevan and Weyburn.

They are all labradors who were chosen for their gift at helping people in need.

The dogs are trained to help people whose lives have been emotionally shattered as the victims of horrific crimes such as child sexual assault.

Beaumont's partner is Tara Busch, the coordinator of Southeast Regional Victim Services.

She says the two-year-old black lab proved his worth on his second day on the job when he joined her on a call to support a young girl who had been assaulted.

"She was kind of withdrawn and shy and not really saying much," says Busch. "So I took her into another room — we sat on the floor. I sat on one side of Beaumont, she sat on the other side and just had a conversation. She just sat there and would pet him and I could actually see her relax."

For victims who have to relive those horrible moments when giving police statements or testifying in court, dogs provide a kind of comfort without judgment that human strangers can't.

"It brings out that positive emotion in a horrible situation," says Busch. "It gives them that moment of calm and takes them somewhere else for a few minutes to get them through and get them doing what they need to do."

Laura Watamanuk is the executive director of Pacific Assistance Dogs, a non-profit organization based in Burnaby, B.C.

"There's a lot of scientific studies that show handling a dog brings down your blood pressure, it releases the endorphins in the body," she says. "And dogs are non-judgmental, regardless of race, situation — it doesn't matter what tragedy you have gone through, they are just very calming and loving."

For 28 years, PADS has been breeding, raising, and training service dogs for people with physical disabilities along with other kinds of therapy dogs. However, this specific program only started four years ago.

"They're (a) very specific temperament because they're very calm in nature and they tend to be very drawn to people that are under stress or very emotional," says Watamanuk. "They just zoom in on that person, they want to be by that person."

Watamanuk says the first two intervention dogs in Canada were placed in Delta, B.C., and Calgary. In both cases, the dogs immediately adapted to high-stress situations.

On the first day in B.C., the dog and his handler spent the day at a school helping the classmates of a young girl who had been murdered.

Hawke, meanwhile, works with Calgary Police Service. Last year he spent a week supporting the friends and family members of the five victims of a mass murder at a house party. Officers said the dog helped facilitate the process of witness statements that would normally take hours.

(CJME)