Dogs comfort Team Shaw members in pilot program

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The 20th Fighter Wing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office at Shaw Air Force Base began a comfort dog program on Nov. 29.

The program is in a trial stage to observe and document any benefits Team Shaw members may receive from being with the dogs during appointments with the sexual assault and response coordinator or the violence prevention integrator.

The dogs are meant to provide comfort for sexual assault or violence victims who may not feel comfortable speaking about their experiences during an SARC appointment or during a court case.

The selection process began with interviewing potential comfort dog candidates.

"We offered a volunteer opportunity to the wing and had airmen bring in their dogs for us to visit with, so the interview process was actually pretty fun," said Latonya Franklin, 20th FW sexual assault response coordinator. "What we were looking for was temperament of the dog and basic obedience. Obviously, this program is geared toward comfort for sexual assault victims, so we wanted a dog that would be really relaxed in temperament."

The SAPR office currently has Suzzy, a 12-year-old golden retriever, who works in the office, and the violence prevention office has Riley, a 6-month-old golden retriever, who is still in training.

Suzzy can be found in the office on Thursday mornings from 8 a.m. until noon. However, both dogs are available to come in on request.

Because this is a pilot program, the SAPR and Violence Prevention offices will evaluate the program's progress to see if the dogs increase the usage of the SAPR office in addition to assessing feedback from the victims, Franklin said. If the feedback is positive and victims indicate they have really benefited from the experience, the program will continue for as long as needed.

"We've actually structured the program so it can be applied to Family Advocacy and Airman and Family Readiness as well," said Patricia Breen, 20th FW violence prevention integrator. "It's an animal-assisted activities program that is not specific to SAPR."

"These dogs are comfort dogs," Franklin said. "We don't require extensive training or certifications like you would see with service dogs or therapy dogs. We just want a dog for a victim to connect and spend time with while they're doing their routine visits to the SAPR office."

Franklin went on to say how busy Suzzy has been since the start of the program and how the comfort dog has already brought in visitors who normally would not have stopped in.

For more information about the comfort dog program or to set up an appointment, contact the SAPR office at (803) 895-1928.