The waiting room of the Midland Rape Crisis and Children’s Advocacy Center (MRCCAC) is the least likely place anyone could expect to play fetch with dogs or to make a dog sing, but that’s exactly what you’ll find on any given day at the Center.
In 2002, the MRCCAC’s Pawz for Kids therapy dog program began in full force with its first class of ten dogs of various breeds and sizes. Pawz for Kids now has almost 30 therapy dogs that regularly volunteer with their owners to sit with child victims of sexual abuse and their loved ones when they come to the Center for forensic interviews or for therapy.
Photos of our current therapy dogs are shown here.
The staff of the Midland Rape Crisis and Children’s Advocacy Center proposed the Pawz for Kids program to a receptive board of directors. The Permian Basin Area Foundation of Midland awarded the Center a grant for $2500 to make Pawz for Kids a reality.
The Center teamed up with Ed Nicks and his wife Jan, who runs the couple’s dog obedience school in Midland.
It was two years before the idea became a reality. MRCCAC staff, Ed and Mrs. Nicks attended an animal assisted therapy conference and gained invaluable insight into the appropriate use of animals in therapy and visitation as well as liability issues. The Center along with Mr Nicks established policies and procedures for the program and began recruiting with surprising success.
Obedience training is the first requirement for a prospective Pawz for Kids volunteer team (dog and handler). The second requirement is temperament testing. Mr. Nicks utilizes a variety of techniques to ascertain whether a dog’s temperament is suited for working with children in the Center’s environment. In fact, temperament-testing takes place at the Center. Finally, the dogs are tested and certified by Therapy Dog International, Inc. Handlers attend a fifteen-hour training course on providing crisis intervention with child victims and their families.
The therapy dogs have added a new dimension to the atmosphere at the Center. When children and their loved ones come to the Center for the first time, they are in crisis. Children come to the Center to talk about their abuse (often for the first time). Although the Midland Child Protection Team is highly trained and sensitive to the needs of children, the dogs are able to decrease the anxiety children suffer during their first visit to the Center in a way that no person can. Many of those children return to the Center with their therapy with their families and asked for the therapy dogs by name. The staff meetings almost always include the telling of therapy dog stories from the previous week.
One account related by a previous staff member reminds us of the importance of our therapy dogs when sharing this story. One afternoon two boys could be heard playing fetch with one of the therapy dogs. After a few minutes of play, one of the boys stopped and said “he likes me!” Those stories make us proud to offer the child and adult clients a unique experience where they receive unconditional acceptance — often for the first time in their lives.
Therapy Dogs: Guardian Angels for Abused Children
The following video was produced by an MRCCAC volunteer.