Trauma dog eases anxiety for Langley victims

Trauma dog eases anxiety for Langley victims

Orca has been on the job for just a few months, but is already proving invaluable.

Orca greets new people with a wet nose a lick to the hands.

The black lab is one the newest employees of Client Support and Victim Serivces, a program run by the Langley RCMP.

Her job is not to chase down bad guys or sniff out bombs. Orca is a trauma dog, a new class of service dog that has only been around in the Lower Mainland for a few years.

Orca’s primary handler is Pat Jeannotte, the program manager for Victim Services. A handler can take Orca anywhere a crime or accident victim could use help dealing with a stressful situation – from the point of trauma, to forensic interviews, to court.

“And beyond, if necessary,” Jeannotte said, noting that the hope is that trauma dogs like Orca can go to parole hearings eventually.

Orca’s job is to be a calming presence and to provide emotional support for people going through some of the worst experiences of their lives.

In one case, a victim fearful of testifying did not want to go to court. Jeannotte brought Orca, who sat quietly by the witness, being petted.

After being calmed, the witness made it through testifying in the preliminary inquiry, Jeannotte said. While she can’t give 100 per cent of the credit to Orca, Jeannotte is sure the dog helped.

Orca has also attended a school lockdown, been to court in Surrey, and has worked on 10 files for the Langley RCMP in the last three months.

Orca is happy to sit at someone’s feet, or climb onto a couch or chair next to someone, just to be with them.

It isn’t easy finding dogs that have the right temperament for the job.

“Orca’s just very calm, she’s affectionate, well behaved,” said Laura Watamanuk, executive director of the Pacific Assistance Dog Society (PADS).

PADS has been training service dogs for 30 years, including dogs that aid the deaf and hard of hearing, or that help people with physical disabilities.

Most of their dogs have to be relatively high energy, but the trauma dogs are the opposite.

They have to be happy to meet people, calm in the face of extreme emotions, and eager to be with people who are distressed.

Orca fits the bill – she’s a low-key but friendly dog. Jeannotte remembered a visit by high school students to the Langley RCMP detachment. When she let Orca go to say hello, the dog made a point of greeting each student, one at a time, not missing any of them.

Trauma dogs also have to be extremely well behaved – essential for some of the only animals allowed in courtrooms in B.C.

“They should always be seen and not heard,” said Watamanuk.

Then they have to be matched up with a handler like Jeannotte.

“It has to be the right dog,” she said.

When she met up with Orca in February to begin her training, the match was uncanny, Jeannotte said.

There was a full week of training with Orca to begin with, followed by multiple reports and status updates with PADS to make sure things are working out.

“It’s not like having your pet dog at home, it’s a lot of work,” said Jeannotte.

There are still a number of new frontiers for Orca and other trauma dogs. Orca has been to court, but not into the docket with a witness yet. Some judges are still a little leery of allowing animals in a courtroom, but efforts by dogs working in Delta and other Lower Mainland police units have helped pave the way over the past few years.

Orca is the first trauma dog to work within an RCMP detachment in the Lower Mainland.