Therapy dog helps child abuse victims in Thurston County

LACEY -- Getting up on the witness stand and testifying in court is a scary experience for anyone, let alone a child.

“You imagine them having to get up and talk about the details of their abuse in open court in front of the perpetrator with many people there listening. It’s extremely stressful,” Tambra Donohue, director of the Monarch Children’s Justice and Advocacy Center, said Friday.

Now there is a furry new friend to help child victims through that process. Astro is a 2-year-old lab/retriever mix that was donated to the Monarch Center from an assistance dog organization in Hawaii.

Astro now sits with victims during their initial abuse interviews, and goes along with them during physical exams and counseling sessions.

“They can hold his leash, they can turn and keep eye contact and know there is a calm, kind compassionate canine at their side,” said nurse Lisa Wahl.

Therapy dogs like Astro are becoming more common in courthouse settings. Both King and Snohomish counties have them, and prosecutors say it makes trying an abuse case much easier.

“Studies have shown the dog being relaxed and calm will actually calm down a child or adult victim as well,” said Thurston County deputy prosecutor Joe Jackson.

It allows victims to disclose details of what happened to them, and hold abusers accountable.

Astro is almost done with his courthouse training and will soon be allowed in the witness stand, helping the tiniest victims through this traumatic time.

“You can see how children respond to him that even the most specialized person working with kids can`t offer that. It’s enhanced all of our jobs and we’ve been really grateful to have him here,” said Donohue.