Facility Service Dog Program
Rosie, an eleven-year-old golden retriever, came to the Children’s Home on loan during the spring of 2011 and made history by accompanying a 15-year-old child witness while giving testimony in Dutchess County Criminal Court. The presence of a specially trained dog to provide comfort and prevent further traumatization of a child witness had never before been permitted in the history of NYS Courts. Rosie enabled this young girl to testify, which she otherwise would not have been able to do without risking further psychological harm. After the trial, Rosie returned to her owners/trainers, Dale and Lu Picard of East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD) and retirement. However, Rosie’s several weeks at the Home had made a huge impact, not just to help the young girl give her testimony, but for all the residents at the Home.
The Picards raise and train service dogs primarily for disabled veterans, and run ECAD Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (also known as East Coast Assistance Dogs), as a not for profit organization. A very small percent of the dog population (10%) have the degree of calm temperament and the extensive training these specialized dogs receive that reinforces their capabilities of remaining calm under a wide range of conditions when they are working. Part of their magic with the children is their non-judgmental, non-evaluative and unconditionally accepting response but because so many of the children have suffered trauma, another essential factor is uncommon calmness. Traumatized children experience abnormally elevated cardiovascular functioning because they are constantly vigilant and scanning their environment for signs of danger. When off duty, these dogs run around and play like any other dog. Just like humans, they need down time.
When 9-year-old Ivy, Rosie’s sister, became available after her owner, a disabled veteran, died, the Picard’s offered her to the Children’s Home. They knew what a huge difference Rosie had made to all the children at the Home. Ivy, a service-trained dog, was now attached to a facility, thus she became a Facility Service Dog in 2012. Service dogs are highly trained for a minimum of two years and learn 80 commands. They are not to be confused with therapy dogs which are often household pets who visit nursing homes and hospitals for brief visits. Ivy was an immediate hit with the Home’s residents and staff alike. Her calm, supportive manner and amazing instincts made her invaluable in working with traumatized children. She was also capable of supporting a child during court testimony or during forensic interviews. She lived with her boarder, off campus, and came to work with the Home’s Clinical Director, Dr. David A. Crenshaw, spending the majority of her time engaging with children or family units in 4-5 hours of daily therapy sessions. “She was the best co-therapist I ever had,” said Dr. Crenshaw.
Children who have been abused, neglected and traumatized, usually find it difficult to talk to an adult. They would often tell Ivy their secrets, trusting the dog, and then by association trusting Dr. Crenshaw. Opening up about their traumas is the first step toward healing. Ivy would go into a group session and immediately sense who needed her the most, go directly there and lay her head in the child’s lap.
Ivy had serious health issues when she arrived at the Children’s Home and thus had to retire at age 11 in early 2013, and passed away weeks later, loving her work until the end. Knowing Ivy’s time would be short, the Picard’s were training another group of dogs and offered one to the Home for $8,500 instead of the usual fee of $30,000. A generous donor offered to cover the cost. Ivy’s Fund was established to defray the ongoing costs of equipment, board and care which must be borne through donations rather than government funding.
In late June, 2013, we welcomed 2-year-old Ace, grandson of Rosie and nephew of Ivy as our Facility Service Dog. In April, 2016 Ace’s half-brother, Marshall, joined the team. Ace and Marshall have wormed their way into the hearts of the children and the staff. Ace and Marshall are fast learners and happily giving comfort to distressed children. In one case, a young boy came home and found his mother lying on the living room floor. The boy was brought to the Children’s Home, still thinking his mother was just ill. The same day, Dr. Crenshaw brought Ace into the therapy room with the youngster and told him his mom had passed away. Ace was an immediate comfort to the boy as he processed this devastating news, and received his hugs with calm grace. Marshall will do the same.
You can help to support the ongoing expenses of our Facility Service Dog program by donating here.
For questions about Ace, Marshall and our therapy program, please contact Dr. Crenshaw at 845-452-1420, ext 162 or by email.