In photo left to right: Kelli Davis, Grace Coleman, Brooke Kaminski, Michael Brayack
(seated): Caitlin Cole, Frankie Embrescia, Penny, Ari, Cheri Herschell, Wyatt Herschell
Nominator: Grace Coleman, Executive Director, Crisis Center North
Award Recipient: Victim Assistance Canine Program
Gazing into her warm
brown eyes and feeling her cold nose against her cheek, Grace Coleman knew that
this shelter pup, Penny, and she had a destiny together. That destiny unfolded
in 2011, when Crisis Center North’s (CNN) Victim Assistance Canine Program (VACP)
was born. The program is inclusive of both canine counseling and canine court
services. Since then, a second canine, Ari, (Hindi for “he who shows the right
path”), has joined the team.
These working canines
are required to have their Canine Good Citizen and therapy dog certifications,
as well as training using the intuitive training method. CCN is the first in
the U.S. to use this training method in training canines for this work.
In 2013, the program
expanded beyond the counseling services and into the court system through the
support of the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, former President
Judge Mary Jo McDaniel, and Judge Anthony Saveikis.
Not only is this
program the first canine court program in Allegheny County, it is the first canine
advocacy program in Pennsylvania’s domestic violence movement. The program uses
shelter dogs as opposed to dogs that are bred, trained, and often sold for this
work. The program is layered for effectiveness and consists of an internal
oversight committee inclusive of advocate/handlers, an external counseling
professional, and a veterinary technician/trainer. It oversees training, program
funding, policy development, and day-to-day operations.
The training team
consists of three handlers and the "Canine Kids"; five children ages
four and up who are responsible for grooming, play, socialization, and
This year, the
program hosted the first regional veterinary conference on the
"Interrelationship Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence" which
focused on strategies that DV providers and veterinarians can implement in
ending the cycle of violence.
CCN’s VACP is an innovative program which has
attracted regional, state, and national attention. From canine selection to the
training employed, CCN's VACP is forging the way in utilizing canines to
address trauma with this state-of-the-art program. It’s truly a model that
could lead victim services “to the dogs”!
The Victim Assistance Canine Program was presented the award on May 9th, during the 14th Pathways for Victim Services Conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
On behalf of victims of crime and the victim services field, we thank you, Victim Assistance Canine Program, for your innovation, collaboration, and unfailing commitment to victims of crime.