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In photo left to right: Kelli Davis, Grace Coleman, Brooke Kaminski, Michael Brayack
(seated): Caitlin Cole, Frankie Embrescia, Penny, Ari, Cheri Herschell, Wyatt Herschell

Program Award
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 intellectual development.

 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”! 

Award Presentation:

 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.