OLEAN — There have been many “golden” moments at the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center over the past several months.
Those moments come each time an abused child comes to the center and meets Addie, a 14-month-old golden retriever being trained as a service dog. Addie has a calming effect on most children and the adults around them as well.
Founded in 2007, the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center STCAC coordinates a multidisciplinary team made up of representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, Child Protective Services, medical and mental health Providers, family advocates, Probation and schools to intervene in suspected child abuse cases.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I started at the center,” Karen Hill, founding executive director of the Southern Tier Child Advoacy Center on Main Street in Olean, said in an interview Friday.
Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Deputy Mary MacQueen has been working with Addie and Hill on basic obedience since before the golden retriever was six months old. The dog may eventually be called on to spend hours at a time sitting with a child.
“We’re still working on obedience,” Hill said. But Addie is already on duty — kind of. As as a child walks down the hallway at the center they often spot Addie laying in Hill’s office. If they wish, they can stop and pet the dog.
It often has an immediate calming effect on the child. The unconditional love the dog has to give to a child can make a big difference — particularly when a child is uncomfortable.
“Addie is very good with children,” Hill said. “It doesn’t matter what age they are.”
Once Addie is certified as a support dog, she will be able to accompany children to forensic interviews and eventually be with them in court when they need to testify.
A support dog has to be able to be in different environments with different individuals and be comfortable, Hill said. All signs for Addie are good so far.
“She also great for the team” at the Child Advocacy Center, Hill said. Everyone from investigators to doctors to child protective services workers love to see her. Their work is often difficult and Addie helps lower their stress levels too.
You also have to watch that a support dog doesn’t get stressed out too, Hill notes.
The Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center hosted nearly 200 children last year who officials suspected were abused.
“She is already meeting with kids in the playroom if it’s OK with the child and caregiver,” Hill said. “She’s amazing. She seems to have an intuition around kids and people.”
The goal is to provide comfort and support — whatever she can — for children and families when they come to the center. Addie is being trained to assist children and family members with post traumatic stress disorder.
“The community has been great too,” Hill said. Walmart and Home Depot for example, allow Hill and Addie to walk around to get her accustomed to crowds. John Ash Cleaners, drycleaned Addie’s royal blue service dog vest at no charge.
Hill and others at the Southern Tier Child Advocacy Center are currently meeting with community groups to explain the need to expand the center to include domestic violence, since it often accompanies child abuse.
They will need a larger center, Hill said. Officials are looking for a new, larger site to accommodate the new model. Hill said the STCAC runs mostly on grants.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)