An “amazing” dog named Moose is, literally, saving lives.
Thanks to a local grass-roots fundraising campaign, the Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe Muskoka (CAC), which has offices in both Orillia and Barrie, recently purchased Moose, a specially-trained facility dog from COPE (Canine Opportunity; People Empowerment).
The investment has already paid huge dividends – some in unexpected ways.
First, the intended dividends: Moose, as advertised, is a godsend for children and families who have experienced a trauma and must go to a police station or CAC office to provide details that might lead to an arrest.
One of the CAC’s youth advocates who specializes in human trafficking (her name is being withheld to protect her), says Moose has been a “game-changer.”
A few weeks ago, the advocate explained, a 22-year-old woman called the CAC to report that she was a victim of human trafficking.
“She absolutely refused to walk in our door,” says the advocate. “She was terrified. She had fear instilled in her for years. She did not trust us, she did not trust the officers … but the second she saw Moose, it was like a light switch went on. He walked in the door (of the CAC) and she followed.”
With Moose providing love and comfort, the young woman, over the ensuing hours, told her story. “We were able to arrest this person and we were able to save numerous other people involved in that situation,” said the advocate. “Moose made such an impact on not only her life but numerous other children, youth and adults that were involved with this person.”
CAC executive director Tracey Carter said it’s stories like that that reinforce Moose’s value.
“Moose has been the most incredible addition to our team,” said Carter. “We’ve had children who refused to come into the centre. But then they see Moose at the door and it makes them feel comfortable.”
Just last week, there was a youngster who needed to talk to the police about something that had happened to him and “he refused to come into the police station,” said Carter. The police asked if they could bring the child to the CAC. “‘They have a dog?’ The child’s eyes lit up. He came in and now he’s moving forward in positive way.”
While Moose has already comforted many victims and helped with several investigations, the loving canine has also had a “huge impact” on staff at the CAC, police officers and other front-line workers.
“I had not really thought of the potential benefit of Moose to staff,” said Lorraine Boros, service manager for Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions. “He has been amazing for us.”
Boros said one of her employees recently had a very heart-wrenching, emotional interview with a sexually-abused child. After that, the worker spent some time with Moose.
“She said she was not in a good place. She was emotional. But after a few minutes with Moose, she was able to leave and come back to the office feeling much better,” said Boros. “I can’t tell you how many other workers have had similar experiences.”
That is also true of police officers, said Val Gates, who has worked 16 of her 21 years in the crimes against persons unit in Barrie.
“We work with troubled youth, domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, human trafficking (and) … there’s nothing more devastating than interviewing a child when you know something has happened and you are not getting that disclosure,” she explained.
Moose, she said, has helped “dramatically.” She said most kids feel so much more comfortable sitting beside a loving dog nuzzling them. But Moose has also impacted the officers, she said.
“When officers get down on the floor with Moose, it helps the officer as well,” said Gates, who notes the friendly, calm dog “lightens” her day. Fighting back emotions, she said: “You have no idea what this means to our officers.”
Tanya Alfieri, a child and family advocate, demonstrated Moose’s approach at a recent gathering of donors. She had her co-worker, Tanya Devlin, sit on the couch in the room where families typically meet with police or others.
Within seconds, Moose cuddled beside Devlin, and nuzzled her. He was the picture of calm.
“Moose is just so relaxed and chill … he is a beautiful distraction,” says Alfieri, who noted Moose was formerly a reading buddy at elementary schools. “He loves kids. He is a great tool that enhances the work we do.”
He is also part of the CAC family and lives with Alfieri. At times, he lives with Devlin. Both can attest to what he brings, but science might just explain it better.
Alfieri says research shows that when stress levels rise, a hormone – cortisol – is released. That same research reveals that when you see a dog, when you pet a dog, serotonin and oxytocin levels rise and that helps bring the cortisol down.
“When the cortisol level is high, it can impact brain function,” she said. “That can lead to confusion, an inability to retrieve and recall information … so with Moose at their side, the child is more relaxed and that pays off with better results.”
While Moose is a big help, he could not have joined the team if it weren’t for the generosity of local donors, who rallied to raise more than $14,000 in less than 48 hours to secure the purchase.
Orillia businessman Jim Dykes, a CAC board member, helped lead the charge.
“For me, like everyone else, the thought of what children are put through, whether it’s sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, it’s just beyond imagination,” said Dykes, whose employees at Madison County stepped up to help. “So, to give a little wee bit back and maybe protect one kid … it’s all worthwhile.”
When he was rallying support, Dykes was surprised when some questioned the need. “I have some friends, who are good, intelligent people who said, ‘That doesn’t happen here,’” said Dykes. “Over 14 days in August, we took 22 kids in. The need is horrendous.”
The statistics tell the tale, said Carter.
“The reality is almost a third of children experience some form of physical or sexual abuse before the age of 18,”’ said Carter. “Sexual abuse of kids is believed to be the number one most underreported crime and more than half of sexual assaults are perpetrated against those under the age of 18.”
She said having a CAC in the community is vital. Moose makes it better, she said.
While Carter and her staff are thankful for the community support, she is hoping for more help. She would love to see a veterinarian in Orillia and/or Barrie volunteer their services to support Moose and she’s hoping a pet store might step up to donate food and other supplies.
For more information, call Carter at 705-327-0118, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit cacsimcoemuskoka.ca