Labrador ready to help victims of child abuse

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Pantagraph.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — The newest resource to comfort stressed child abuse victims in McLean County has dark, soulful eyes, a soft coat and a patient disposition.

Joch (pronounced “Jock”), a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, was introduced Aug. 15 as the first support dog in McLean County for child victims of sexual or serious physical abuse, human trafficking or witnesses to major crimes.

“If it can help to ease any of the stress that the children are experiencing, that’s the main benefit,” said McLean County State’s Attorney Jason Chambers.

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“Joch has the ability to help a lot of kids during a stressful time for them,” added Judy Brucker, executive director of the McLean County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) and Court Appointment Special Advocate (CASA) program.

Joch was introduced to the media at the CAC by his daytime handler — Stephanie Jewett, a CAC child family advocate — and nighttime handler, Jacob Harlow, an assistant state’s attorney who handles child-exploitation cases.

Joch is the first CAC support dog in central and southern Illinois, Brucker said. Lake and Will counties in northern Illinois also have support dogs.

Research has proven that just petting a dog can reduce stress and the heart rate of some people, so some CACs nationwide are adding support dogs, Harlow said.

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The center investigates allegations of abuse against children. In a multi-disciplinary approach, children are interviewed in a friendly environment that focuses on reducing trauma. When a case moves through the judicial process, therapists provide counseling to victims.

Joch is meeting with children before and after their interviews. Joch demonstrated how, on command, he can place his head or his head and front paws onto a child’s lap and how he can retrieve fallen stuffed animals.

Eventually, Joch may join children during their interviews and during their testimony in court, Jewett and Harlow said. In court, Joch may sit at the child’s feet in the witness box to comfort the child without distracting jurors, Harlow said.

Jewett and Harlow spent two weeks getting trained on how to handle Joch at Support Dogs Inc. in St. Louis.

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The Children Protection Network — which is supported by donations — spent $11,000 for the training and initial expenses and has committed to $1,500 a year for food and other bills, said network board president Terry Lindberg.

Dr. Kimberly Burks of Highland Pet Hospital and Wellness Center is providing complimentary veterinary care.

Children’s Advocacy Center served 356 children in McLean, Livingston and DeWitt counties last year, with 276 from McLean County, Brucker said.

Already, three children have been comforted by Joch, said Jewett, who anticipates that most of the children served by the center will want to see Joch.

“When kids come here, they have been humiliated,” Harlow said. “Anything we can do to relieve the stress is good for the kids.”


Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph,