Saffron’s newest office member brings something different to the table, and that includes four paws.
It’s been four years in the making, but Sherwood Park’s Saffron Sexual Assault Center finally received its facility support dog.
The two-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador retriever, Yukon, arrived at the local non-profit in April after she was bred, born, and trained through the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guide Program based in Oakfield, Ontario .
With her first working day marked on April 18, she’s only been on the job for just a few weeks, but she’s already making a notable impact.
“We’ve had people as young as eight-years-old all the way up to seniors so far. We’ve been quite gentle about it since she is still in training, but we’ve had her come in and sit down on the couch with them and the level of interaction that they have is incredible. It’s just incredible to watch,” said Kiara Warkentin, Saffron’s director of justice, research and outreach.
The facility dog will be tasked with accompanying Saffron clients through police interviews, court orientations, and witness testimony.
“Yukon is a wonderful addition to our team,” said Roxane Tiessen, Saffron’s executive chair.
Yukon will also support the non-profit’s counseling services by working with several of the therapists to help both youth and adults.
“Dogs have this ability, which we don’t have as advocates, where we can’t reach out and pat our client on the back, give them a hug, or calm them down in any kind of physical way, but a dog can lay with them on the couch and they can pet the dog, look into their eyes, and feed the dog treats. It’s just that cathartic touch and a grounded touch that we’re not able to provide,” Warkentin said. “It brings people back down into their window of tolerance, and they’re able to articulate themselves, tell their stories, and think more clearly because they’re not in a fight-or-flight mode.”
Based on Saffron’s recent demand for service, Yukon could help upwards of a few hundred clients each year. Back in the fall, the center was handling approximately 100 court files, 60 of which were new, and 100 sexual assault counseling cases.
Saffron is working with the courts now to conduct some practice runs for Yukon, but the hope is to have the comforting canine companion working in the courthouse by July, when the center has trials and sentencing hearings booked.
“She needs to be allowed in the court room. The crown prosecutor needs to put in an application with the court for her to be accepted as a support dog on the stand. Then she she would come with me to trial. When it comes time for the client to give testimony, when would get them set up on the stand, then I’d bring Yukon in and place her — there is a command that she knows ‘under’, and she would lay down under the witness stand by the client who is giving testimony and stay there until I go release her from the command. She could stay there for hours, and she only comes off when I go collect her,” Warkentin explained the court process.
More than $30K raised to support new facility dog program
The community certainly heeded the non-profit’s call for support in the fall. More than $30,000 was donated to Saffron to support this new facility dog program — $20,000 of that came from individual community members donations, both small and large. Support was also provided by the Edmonton Humane Society, the County Clothes-Line Foundation, Classic Family Of Companies, Apex Contracting Inc., and Flare Mortgage Group. That funding will cover the program for a few years, but it’s expected that continuous fundraising will be done to support Yukon.
In addition, Sherwood Park’s VCA Mills Haven Animal Hospital has also stepped up to sponsor all of Yukon’s veterinary care and several needs while she is working.
Yukon will remain a friendly face around Saffron’s office and events for the next nine years. Facility dogs typically retire around the age of 11.
“I am so looking forward to see her working with our clients. I have already seen the impact that she’s had being around our staff and a few of our clients. When I think about the long-term and the projection of all of that work as she becomes more comfortable in her role, it’s almost impossible to quantify how much she is going to help people, ”Warkentin noted. “I am so excited to watch her work by her and I’m so excited to work with her. I feel so lucky.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text the 24-hour CASASC crisis line at 1-866-956-1099.