MetroWest Daily News – Milford service dog helps victims of trauma

MetroWest Daily News – Milford service dog helps victims of trauma

Wayside’s Trauma Intervention Services program in Milford includes a trained Labrador retriever to help clients with traumatic events. Read the article as it originally appeared in the MetroWest Daily News here or below.

By Alison Bosma

Editor’s note: The Daily News agreed to keep two sources in this story anonymous, to protect their children who are still undergoing trauma therapy.

MILFORD – After his wife’s violent death a year ago, a 40-year-old Medway father found his three young children needed help dealing with their grief.

″(My wife) was hit by a car and she was thrown 91 feet,” said the father, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his children’s identities, “and was in the hospital for about 32 days … and then passed away.”

His 12-year-old daughter shut down, he said, his 10-year-old son was angry, and his 8-year-old daughter simply didn’t understand the loss.

He took his children to Milford’s Wayside Trauma Intervention Services, where they began therapy sessions with trauma counselor Judi Earnest and her new co-worker – a NEADS-trained black Labrador retriever service dog named Gilbert.

“It’s like he can sense their pain or feeling and he gets his nose right over there, and they’re able to engage with him,” the Medway father said. “They’ll hug him, they’ll pet him, and they’ll start to calm down. It’s actually amazing to see.”

Gilbert has worked with Earnest at the Milford office for about a year, and was the first NEADS, Inc. (which formerly stood for National Education for Assistance Dog Services) dog trained for courtroom use in Massachusetts, Earnest said. The pair work with children and adults who have been through or witnessed something traumatic, from rape to domestic violence to homicide.

“His empathy is phenomenal,” Earnest said of the 3-year-old Gilbert, who sprawled patiently at her feet Monday. “I definitely see clients able to talk more, be more open with him here.”

The enthusiastic Labrador helps clients open up in therapy sessions, prepare for court appearances, and even accompanies them into the courtroom.

“He sat on the court bench with his head in her lap,” Earnest said, remembering a juvenile case, where her young client gave a victim impact statement. “He sat right next to her during it to give her a little extra courage.”

Earnest secured her four-legged co-worker after years of asking, she said, and doing some of her own fundraising toward the $8,000 NEADS, Inc. asks clients to contribute. Each dog takes about $45,000 to raise and train, according to a NEADS, Inc. representative.

“It’s a whole new idea and concept,” she said.

For her clients, Gilbert’s presence is priceless.

“I couldn’t get ten words out of her,” 32-year-old Upton mom Jessica said of her 12-year-old daughter, before therapy. “She wouldn’t talk about her trauma. She wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. That was how she was coping.”

Her daughter was falling behind in school, too, she said.

After close to a year of weekly therapy sessions with Earnest and Gilbert, she’s doing better, Jessica said.

“She’s really, really blossomed this year,” Jessica said. “It’s a new kid over this past year. It’s really incredible, and I do think a lot of it has to do with when she is with Gilbert and Judi, she feels it’s a really safe environment.”

Monday, Earnest’s furry co-worker sported a red bow-tie, and bounded to the gate on his and Earnest’s shared office to show off his favorite bone. After nosing in for a joyful, but gentle greeting – and maybe an attempt to snuggle into a lap – he reluctantly heeded a command to lie down, cheekily ducking to the floor before flopping down properly, back legs splayed.

“After a visit with him, they’re covered in fur,” Jessica said of her children, on whom Gilbert will lean and snuggle. “He’s a big boy, and he will attempt to be a lap dog on top of my kids, which is extremely funny to watch.”

That enthusiasm and honest doggie joy is part of the reason clients feel they can relax. Sometimes, Earnest said, clients will tell their stories directly to Gilbert, and other times he’s just a focusing presence.

“It makes it so much easier. The tension in the room is a lot less,” Earnest said. “He just gives off a calming vibe.”

For the Medway dad, as with Upton mom Jessica, the pair’s teamwork has made a huge difference in their children’s recovery.

“I think when Gilbert was introduced, it completely transformed how they were able to communicate with Judi, and feel a little more at ease and safe,” he said. “It’s been a difficult road, but I think we’re slowly getting some good, positive energy to move forward and understand things. Judi and Gilbert have been a very big part of our healing process.”

Wayside Trauma Intervention Services is a part of Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, based in Framingham.

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