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Dog Helps Comfort Sexual-Assault Victims

8:00 PM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
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KUSA - Everyone knows that dogs can be man's best friend, but they can be so much more than that. In some cases, dogs can comfort people in a very special way.

Amber Urban grew up around animals. She's always had them in her life. At one point, she even wanted to be a veterinarian.

"That was too hard for me. I don't know what that says about me," she said with a smile.

She chose law enforcement instead.

"In 2005, I was working as a school-resource officer, and I knew there had to be somewhere that dogs [or] animals fit into the legal system outside of apprehension and drug dogs," Urban said.

She started researching different options that could fit and found the Paws Assisting the Legal System program. It took her seven years to bring Pella to the Aurora Police Department. The lab-golden retriever mix was donated by Canine Companions for Independence and started working in Aurora this summer.

"[Pella] should work for seven to eight years ... before she retires," Urban said. "Her value is estimated at $50,000. It was a pretty nice donation for a lot of reasons."

The main reason to bring Pella to Colorado - the only dog of its kind here - according to Urban is to work with kids and developmentally-disabled adults during the beginnings of the investigation.

"Pella can be used if there was a defense witness, if there was a suspect who needed to be interviewed. We do interview child suspects. We do interview people who have developmental disabilities who are suspects," Urban said. "It's hard for anyone regardless of their state in life, their age, their background, their ethnicity. It's hard for them to talk to police. It's just an uncomfortable situation. Pella can just help that anxiety to lessen a bit."

Pella works a lot at SungateKids, a center where forensic interviewers talk to kids and adults who have either witnesses a crime or been victims of it themselves.

"Maybe somebody thinks that something happened to a child. Maybe a child says [something] and the adults take it out of context," forensic interviewer Lisa Cesario-Scott said. "It's a place for the child to come and speak about what actually happened. Maybe it was nothing, and everybody sort of got a wrong impression or blew it out of proportion."

Nationally, one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually assaulted before reaching 18. Those are just reported cases. Sex assaults are the most underreported crimes. Child sex assault are reported even less. SungateKids works with all victims and witnesses.

Typically, only the interviewer and the child are in the room. Now, the kids can choose to have Pella there for support.

"They're here to talk about things that are traumatic. They, depending on their age, may not have that recognition of it being traumatic, but they feel it," Urban said. "They know the people around them are feeling it, and they can sense the same things that dogs can. They're kind of a different level. They don't communicate the way adults do, and dogs don't communicate the way people do. So, it's a little bit better of a connection for a lot of kids to be able to interact with the dog who has no judgment, no opinion. The kids see that and they're like, 'Wow, they just like me.'"

Cesario-Scott has been a forensically interviewing people since 2006. She said she sees the difference when Pella is present.

"Pella brings a sense of security for the kids and a calming effect," she said. "It's very hard. We have to talk about so having Pella here has a soothing. Kids like to pet her while they're talking about her. If they get nervous, they hold on to her leash."

Urban said even though she and the dog work for APD, she would come and help any jurisdiction that would ask for Pella's help.

Written by Anastasiya Bolton, KUSA

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