Therapy Dogs Help Haven House Provide Emotional Healing
Domestic violence: two words that elicit a wide range of emotions including fear, shame and betrayal on one side of the scale, and disbelief and even apathy on the other.
Domestic violence: words countless Moore County women literally experience time after time. Domestic violence is still misunderstood, even though it takes the lives of numerous women.
The local safe house in Moore County is a temporary home to up to 18 women and -children who are victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. The agency's staff eases the immediate pain felt by the clients so that emotional healing can begin. On any given day the house can hold -frightening secrets within its walls.
On one such afternoon, a young pretty woman sat on a sofa at Haven House. The horrific -circumstances that brought her to Haven House were not known by the two new volunteers who just arrived. A St. Joseph of the Pines employee had just entered Haven House with her certified therapy dog, along with a volunteer and therapy dog from SJP's volunteer -services department. They were there to offer the -companionship that compassionate volunteers could offer. They were accompanied by the most important aspect of the program - dogs certified by Therapy Dogs International Inc. (TDI) and part of TDI Chapter 224, Southern Pines, working at St. Joseph of the Pines.
A relationship is brewing between SPJ and Friend to Friend. SJP's contribution to Haven House has grown from just monetary support to literally hands-on support.
Lance, a 70-pound, 2-year-old red Doberman pinscher, was asked by the SJP employee to go and visit the young woman on the couch. To everyone's delight, the Haven House resident stroked the dog's head. The owner explained to the client that the dog had been rejected and cast out by his previous owner. He was found at the age of1 year, roaming the streets in a large city and was taken to a rescue shelter for his breed, where she went to adopt him. The young woman listened and for the first time a smile appeared, large enough to form a crease on either side of her face. Onlookers caught loving glances between client and dog.
Then the girl spoke (which at the time did not seem strange to the volunteers). She continued talking as she stroked the dog. She told everyone about an old cat that had befriended her. Somehow it found the room where she slept and would come at night to cozy up to her and offer comfort.
"I really miss that cat," she said. "He seemed to know when I was down."
In the meantime, little Katie, a miniature poodle with bright ribbons in her hair, was working her own magic on the other side of the room. For a while, the Haven House residents could forget about their home life and concentrate on the affection coming their way.
"Many of our clients have experienced very little positive touching from other people," says Anne Friesen, director of Friend to Friend. "Petting a dog and finding that it is responding in a loving manner can be very nurturing for children and adults. Research has shown that interacting with animals can be therapeutic. Providing positive social stimulation for our clients is one of the goals of the shelter staff. Focusing on the therapy dogs will help clients focus away from their stressful circumstances."
After an hour, the volunteers and their dogs said their goodbyes to the residents. Friesen escorted them outside. Her eyes welled up with tears. As much as she could without violating the young woman's privacy, she explained that the subject had not uttered a word since she arrived at the shelter. There was no communication on her part with anyone until the dogs arrived that day. Her experience at the hands of a brutal spouse left her with no desire to speak.
"I am so grateful for the dogs," says Friesen. "This person was traumatized from her abuse and was not willing to open up to us. Now we can begin the healing process with her. Staff members witnessed firsthand the soothing benefits the dogs had on the women and children."
These same therapy dogs as well as others from SJP continue to visit at Haven House.
One former client of Haven House wrote a letter to the staff explaining the feeling of desperation that gave way to peace upon her arrival at the shelter.
"I wanted to take the time out to thank you for taking me and my kids in," she said. "I look in the mirror and for the first time in a long time I like what I see ... My children are starting to calm down. The longer they are away from their father and his abusive ways toward me, the less they have reenacted their behavior ... I can't begin to tell you how safe I felt for me and the kids ... He could not hurt me here ... You ladies do more here than provide a shelter. You begin the foundation to a new improved and much happier life for those that come through these doors. A healing!"
Some facts available through the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence include the following: Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and is part of a systematic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma and sometimes death. The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and last a lifetime. Thirty to 60 percent of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household. Only one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes and one-half of all stalkings perpetuated against women by intimate partners are reported to the police. There are 16,800 homicides and $2.2 million (medically treated) injuries due to intimate partner violence annually, which costs $37 billion.
Friend to Friend provides shelter to more than 100 women and children for approximately 2,000 days of care. It serves an average of 6,000 meals at Haven House and helps with approximately 120 emergency restraining orders. It provides more than 1,000 counseling sessions to victims of violence and educates more than 3,500 students on how to deal with anger and abusive relationships through its child assault prevention program.
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