COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A new team member at Safe Passage's Children's Advocacy Center is providing her special skills to make uncomfortable situations a little easier to bear, as reported by KREM 2 News partner the Coeur d'Alene/Post Falls Press
She knows how to make kids feel comfortable, she brighten's everyone's day and she is an expert snuggler.
Her name is Lucy, a forensic interview and courtroom support dog, and she's ready to assist when emotional support is needed.
"She adds this feeling of safety and affection," her handler, Children's Advocacy Center Director Scott Coleman, said Friday. "It's awesome. She’s very sweet."
Lucy is a nearly 3-year-old black Labrador retriever that came to the Children's Advocacy Center in late September after beginning her life of service at Guide Dogs for the Blind in Oregon, where she was training to be a seeing-eye dog.
"She had a 'career change' because she was a little too snuggly with people and those dogs need to be aloof and be able to guide their person out of danger," Coleman said. "She didn't care for wearing the vest."
Lucy then went to Assistance Dogs Northwest, a nonprofit in Bainbridge Island, Wash., where her empathic abilities were refined.
Last summer, Coleman applied for the Children's Advocacy Center to add a canine member to its team. Upon visiting Assistance Dogs Northwest, he and the sweet-natured Lucy were a match.
"Lucy has been amazing not just for the clients but for our staff, the law enforcement folks, the prosecutors, the medical folks," Coleman said. "She's incredible for the kids to work with."
Lucy knows 100 commands, including "fist bump," but snuggling is her specialty.
"She gives sweet little kisses with her nose, she knows shake, stay, jump on," Coleman said. "She's been trained really well. She's just a really unique dog."
Lucy serves as a companion for children who have to relive traumatic experiences during forensic interviews. Her courtroom training allows her to sit in the witness box with them to provide emotional support while they're testifying.
Coleman said Lucy is the fourth courthouse dog in Idaho, and the first placed in Idaho by Assistance Dogs Northwest.
One child being interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Center struggled to recount a traumatic experience, so Coleman said he asked the child if he could tell Lucy what happened. Coleman left the room, and the child told Lucy what was too painful to say to anyone else.
"He told Lucy the statement that had been overheard by somebody but had not been confirmed," Coleman said, adding that the child then felt comfortable enough to recount the incident to him.
"Lucy was the catalyst in that case to get that information out to keep that kid safe," he said. "We've had cases where kids break down crying and she snaps into protection mode, snuggles them and pokes them with her nose like, 'It's OK, I’ve got you.'"
Coleman said humans and dogs share a unique bond and symbiotic relationship that is unlike any other in nature.
"Dogs provide us with safety," he said. "When we as humans see a dog that is asleep and comfortable, we know we’re safe because that dog is not on alert. It provides a subconscious indicator for kids."
At 55 pounds, Lucy provides a comfort for the Children's Advocacy Center that no other teammate can.
"She’s a living weighted blanket. That's a good way to put it," Coleman said.
The Children's Advocacy Center is a nonprofit that provides victim services for children and families.
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 News partner. For more from our news partner, click here.