New therapist to assist abused children locally
Law offers tax relief to senior citizen property owners
August 17, 2015
GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – There is a well-worn, enormous fuzzy stuffed animal in Meghan Hurley’s office. It is a duck, and its yellow, friendly girth is the size of a watermelon. This duck has heard it all. It has quietly accepted and supported many tears and anguish from children in the 9th and 5th Judicial District service areas who have been abused, sometimes sexually, sometimes by persons who are their caregivers. Hurley is a therapist, and her title is CORE Sexual Abuse Treatment Provider, for River Bridge Regional Center in Glenwood Springs.
The well-loved, fuzzy duck cannot respond and give affectionate supportive gestures of compassion when children fearfully bare the secrets that others have forced them to live with. However, a new professional who started working with Hurley today may be able to offer a deeper connection and support for these children to begin their healing processes. This professional is receiving the highest level of training in the field of therapy, seeks to help in the investigation and prosecution of child-related criminal cases, and has just moved here to begin a new career in the River Bridge Regional Center service area of Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.
This therapist is a canine. The new professional is a creamy-colored lab/golden retriever mix named Frasier, and is a trained “Facility Dog”. The saying goes that a dog is man’s best friend. This dog will be a best friend to child abuse victims. He will be able to not only greet a child when coming to investigative and therapy sessions, he will be able to go the extra mile to support the kids emotionally. He will attend medical exams, forensic interviews (to determine facts around a case following an initial disclosure), counseling sessions, and even will accompany children who testify in court regarding the abuse suffered. This supportive presence and loving kindness may serve to remove much of the apprehension a child feels in exposing vulnerable experiences regarding abuse during a dozen or more weeks of therapy.
Frasier will go to work during the day with Hurley as his handler. And, Frasier will go home with Meghan, to live as a pet during off hours. But, how did Hurley know the match between her and her new professional/pet will be a good one?
Frasier received his initial education from a puppy trainer in Colorado Springs, and then traveled to San Diego to study with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). Then, August 3, two-year old Frasier, and a group of nearly a dozen other trained facility dogs, met a class of 14 people, including Hurley, for the first time. For a week, the dogs worked with the professional therapists and those needing service dogs under close monitoring for the bonds that will permanently tie the handlers to their new dogs. Then, dogs were matched with their new handlers, based on a myriad of factors. And, Hurley wasn’t there just to meet and pick up the dog, she had an 11-day intensive handler training, complete with exams, to forge through.
Frasier was named after television character Dr. Frasier Crane. It is his exceptional willingness to listen and characteristics true to the counseling profession that prompted his name, Hurley said. “He chose a well-worn stuffed couch as a dog bed at the facility for his own and would lay his head up on the arm as if to say he was ready to listen.” He is very calm, and Hurley says he is ready to act in his new role. “He really kind of has an on/off switch. He can be puppy-like and fun, he can greet children and make them really comfortable, but then when he needs to turn off, he becomes the most mellow, incredible listener. Everyone called him the doctor or the professor.”
Frasier arrived to his new home with Hurley just two days ago. Already he stays within sight of her at all times. Meghan believed in the program from the start and wanted to have the chance to have a facility dog, so had begun an information campaign to educate area agencies on how the program works. As part of this outreach, she presented the concept to the Garfield County commissioners, as she is an employee of Garfield County Department of Human Services. Following the presentation, an anonymous donor in the meeting offered money for Meghan’s travel to be interviewed for the program.
Now, Frasier is in Garfield County for his first day on the job, August 17, and will meet many other professionals in coming days. He will meet multidisciplinary teams from the district attorney’s office, law enforcement, human service organizations, victim advocate specialists, mental health staff, therapists, and professionals from other area counties, who are invited to a community training August 25. The public is invited as well, from 3-5 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Library, and visitors are asked to register at www.courthousedogs.eventbrite.com.
The following day, August 26, Frasier will debut at the courthouse to meet attorneys and judges as a preview to his upcoming months and years attending court with young victims.
Blythe Chapman, MA, LPC, and executive director of the River Bridge Regional Center, has excitedly surpassed an initial goal of obtaining $6,000 for training funding to bring Frasier here. Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario dedicated $4,000 from the sheriff’s office budget. Individual donors Richard and Holly Glasier contributed $2,000, Western Eagle Valley Rotary contributed $875, Mary Lee Mohrlang contributed $500, FirstBank of Eagle contributed $250, and the Garfield County Department of Human Services is supporting Meghan’s implementation of the program as a county staff person. Frasier will have health support too – Dr. Ben Mackin, DVM, of Carbondale Animal Hospital, will provide veterinary care at cost for Frasier, and Jacky Kaczmarek of All Dogs and Cats Veterinary Hospital has donated grooming services for Frasier’s creamy white coat.
Canine Companions for Independence is a non-profit assistance dog organization. CCI facility dogs are valued at $50,000 at the time of their placement. CCI breeds and trains dogs and provides two weeks of intensive training to the handler and ongoing oversight of the team. The dog and these services are provided free of charge.