Houston PetTalk January/February 2011 : Page 48

LIL’ BITS Community THERAPY DOG TheHar-ris County District Attorney’s Office and the Animal Law Section of theHouston Bar Asso-ciation (HBA) created Paw & Order as animal-assist-ed therapy for domestic violence vic-tims and their families. Paw & Order O n the first and third Tues-days of everymonth, a secure entrance of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center admits three friendly, four-legged therapeutic specialists. They display distinctive uniforms – orange bandanas – and the kind of casual, at-ease attitudes that attract immediate affection from strangers. These are the elite canine regulars of Paw & Order: SDU (Special Dog Unit). They recentlymarked their first anniversary of service in provid-ing emotional support for humans exposed to the grim horrors of do-mestic violence inHarris County. The novel program – a Pet Project in every sense – quickly proved its value to victims and witnesses in family violence cases.Now it has ex-panded to provide that same sense of emotional calm to abused youngsters at the Children’s Assessment Center. TheHarris County District At-torney’s Office and the Animal Law Harris County Special Dog Unit Section of theHouston Bar Associa-tion (HBA) created Paw & Order as animal-assisted therapy for domestic violence victims and their families – especially the children. They enjoy the company of the dogs during their trips to the courthouse and the District Attorney’s Divisions for Family Criminal Law, Crimes Against Children or Victims’ Rights. “Therapy pets have a natural abil-ity to calm children and establish trust,” said attorney Elizabeth Asher, Chair of the HBA’s Animal Law Sec-tion. “We believe that child abuse investigations and recovery are very important areas to apply this gift.” District Attorney Patricia Lykos embraced the initiative as part of her efforts to improve assistance for vic-tims of crime. Belinda Smith, Chief of the DA’s Animal Cruelty Section, explained that the health care field had already been using well-trained animals to boost the outlook and disposition ofmedical patients, By: George Flynn, PIO even those suffering from chronic illnesses. “These animals are an excellent antidote for anyone facing very stressful events or situations,” Smith said. “Just to see the dogsmarching in to the courthouse brightens every-one’smood. For victims, their effect is almost instant – they are relaxing and comforting. Depression and stress don’t have a chance against these natural charmers.” Dogs and their handlers donate their time and services, so there are no costs to the public. Even the ban-danas, which are given to the victims asmementoes, are funded through contributions to the HBA Animal Law Section. Volunteer handlers pass security clearance and have confidentiality agreements. The canine teams are varied – they include mixed breeds, a cocker spaniel, pug, Chihuahua, and a trick-performing lookalike of the star from the ‘70s Benji dogmovies. Dogs rotate assignments between the District Attorney’s divisions and the Children’s Assessment Center. They seem to carry an instinctive sense of mission and purpose. For many victims, these are the real “lap-tops,” ready to dispense love and apparent understanding. “Courthouses can be very cold and forbidding places, especially to people who have been subjected to domestic abuse,” Smith said. “These dogs, and the comfort they bring, can make all the difference during these difficult times for victims.” PHOTO: DistrictAttorney Pa-tricia Lykos embraces the initia-tive for Paw & Order as part of her efforts to improve assistance for victims of crime. Photo by Joe Strange. 48 www.houstonpettalk.com

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