Four-legged friend helps children through traumatic experiences

Posted at 9:49 PM, Jan 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-27 23:49:17-05

TOOELE COUNTY, Utah--Children who have been hurt by adults sometimes have a hard time trusting the adults they need to talk to about the event, so the Tooele County Children’s Justice Center has enlisted the help of a four-legged friend.

Curtis Allen, who heads the Healing Paws program, said a child’s first visit to the center to tell the story of their abuse to authorities can be traumatic, so they bring Bruno the dog into the interview.

“They need to feel safe and be able to tell the story of what happened to them,” he said.

Allen said Bruno's presence helps children overcome some of the difficulty in telling stories of their physical or sexual abuse to a strange adult.  

“When the child comes in it’s just a brief moment in time, but there is a bond that is built in that brief moment between the dog and the child,” he said.

Sometimes the bond continues all the way to the court room.

“Bruno was there during the entire interview,” Allen said of one young girl’s experience. “She had to go to court to testify about what happened to her and wanted Bruno to go with her.”

Allen said many dogs are trained for the program, but few are able to meet all of the requirements. He said his program is patterned after one in Texas, and he’d like to see the program extended to other Utah communities.