Service dog helps comfort child abuse victims - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Service dog helps comfort child abuse victims

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

There's a new counselor, of sorts, on board at Child Protect in Montgomery.  The children's advocacy center was recently able to add an extra helping hand to assist child abuse victims--and that help comes in furry form.  Their new employee is actually a dog, named Bob.      

Bob is a therapeutic service dog, trained specifically to work with kids.  He is helping bring a smile to children dealing with unimaginable.  With one look, it's easy to see why Bob is such a welcome sight inside the halls of Child Protect.

"The kids are already nervous.  You know, they have been through something very traumatic.  When they come in here and see Bob, they say, 'You guys have a Puppy?!'" said Cristie De La Vega.  Cristie is a Child Advocate at Child Protect and is also Bob's handler.  He lives with her, and because he is a service dog, he is able to go everywhere with her.  Every morning, he wakes up, dons his special vest, and goes to work with her.

Child Protect works with law enforcement agencies, conducting interviews and counseling children when there are allegations of sexual or physical abuse.  In most cases, it's difficult to get a child to open up and recount what happened to them.

Cristie said, "It is proven that dogs help lower stress levels and raise serotonin levels, the chemical in your body that makes you happy."

Bob is often in the room during play therapy sessions with the children.  He's also been invaluable when it comes to court prep-- keeping the children calm in the most fragile of situations.    

And, in a way, Bob is also helping to counsel the counselors.  "One of the things they warn us about in our line of work is vicarious trauma.  You hear about all these events, and we just have to leave here and go on and have a normal day.  So, he is also been therapy for us too", added Cristie.

Bob is a Havanese, part of the Bichon breed.  He came to Child Protect from the organization Easter Seals, which trains service dogs for children with disabilities.

Child Protect serves Montgomery, Autauga, Elmore, and Chilton counties.  For more information, visit their web site at http://www.childprotect.org/.

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