Dandy is not your ordinary yellow Labrador retriever.
She’s fun to be around but when it comes time to work she’s a professional.
Dandy is the newest member at Victim Services Toronto (VST). She’s the new pooch that will be helping victims of crime and sudden tragedy in the non-for-profit agency’s new trauma dog program.
She’s gone through two years of intensive training, according to the program’s creator, Bobbie McMurrich, VST’s associate executive director.
“I’ve been thinking about using therapy dogs in a variety of sectors to support patients, and in the mental health professional setting it’s been used to support clients for some time, and I thought it would be fabulous to provide that comfort to our clients,” McMurrich told The Bloor West Villager. “We decided to pursue training her to a higher standard as a trauma dog.”
Dandy has been trained to stay with her handler at all times, and to provide comfort to clients by lying at their feet, hugging them, allowing them to pet her and more, McMurrich said.
“It’s a normalizing mechanism, so they’ll be able to focus on things that need to be done,” she said. “Dandy is being used to reduce clients' anxiety and stress levels.”
Meagan Phelps, Dandy’s handler, told The Villager she has been working with Dandy since October.
“She’s a great dog,” she said. “She’s really smart.”
In addition to helping clients across Toronto, Dandy has been given a room, dubbed “Dandy’s Office,” at 11 Division near Davenport and Old Weston roads.
She will use the office, which has a kennel, to get some quiet time and rest in between calls.
She will also be trained to work with detectives to help victims relax when they give their initial statements at the division.
“What the dog will be able to do as a trauma dog is we introduce the dog to the client, which is the victim, and that dog creates a boundary of safety, warmth and well-being,” Supt. Heinz Kuck told The Villager. “That sense of intimacy and warmth is used to allow that child or that client to feel that sense of protection and warmth, and then disclose what happened.”
Kuck said he has known Dandy “since she was a pup.”
He’s been doing several fundraising and awareness campaigns for VST over the years, and took Dandy with him on the Bang and Olufsen Yorkville Run in 2015.
He's optimistic the trauma dog program will help clients in distress.
“It’s a critical part of VST’s initiative and programing to add a trauma dog to their profile but the program is in its infancy … we’re hoping (Dandy) provides a foundation to expand the program, and maybe getting a second or a third dog,” he said. “I’ve seen the temperament of the dog, and she’s wonderful … I really believe over time, the dog will prove itself to be worth her weight in gold and this will be the start of an expanded program.”