Animal Therapy Day At State Capitol

April 12, 2017

Diana Urban with Ct. Kid Governor Jessica Brocksom, therapy dog teams and advocates.

Committee on Children House Chair Diana Urban welcomed 15 therapy dogs and their handlers to the Capitol for Animal Therapy Day, allowing visitors to meet the dogs and learn about the important role therapy animals play during times of trauma and crisis.

Four statewide organizations were on hand at the event: Tails of Joy, Allan’s Angels, Soul Friends and Cold Noses Warm Hearts.

“It is amazing when you watch a child victim of trauma hugging a therapy dog and whispering problems that need to be shared. These incredible dogs and their handlers do all this on a volunteer basis,” Rep. Urban told a press conference, which highlighted new legislation she has introduced. HB 6999 would allow the use of therapy animals to provide comfort to children who are testifying in certain criminal prosecutions.

State agency staff, law students and therapy animal handlers joined Rep. Urban also to discuss the progress of legislation from recent years that has strengthened prosecution in animal cruelty cases and increased protections for children by recognizing the link between animal cruelty and child maltreatment.

Connecticut Kid Governor Jessica Brocksom, who was elected on a platform called Helping Animals, Those Without A Voice, also spoke at the press conference. “I’m excited to meet legislators today and other people who are working on laws that help give a voice to animals, something I am very passionate about,” Jessica said as the day began.

Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz said mounting research and data demonstrate that children and animals are linked in complex and multifaceted ways. “Literature shows not only that violence against animals and domestic violence are linked, but also that therapy animals have positive effects on children experiencing trauma and stress,” Katz said.

“Since the passing of the cross-reporting law the state Department of Agriculture has been able to share over 200 cases of suspected animal abuse with the Department of Children and Families,” said Raymond T. Connors, a department supervisor in animal control unit. “DCF case workers have also shared over 30 cases of suspected animal abuse with the Department of Agriculture. These cases have led to intervention by both departments, as well as municipal animal control officers, to stop any potential child or animal abuse. Now other states are following Connecticut’s lead and are introducing cross-reporting laws before their legislative bodies.”

“It has been medically proven that owning a pet has an effect on a person’s health and wellbeing. Extending this science into court rooms and schools has allowed children to be more trusting and open about what is going on in their lives,” he said.

“After working with countless children and therapy dogs, I believe that the presence of a registered therapy dog on the witness stand with a child would enable that child to recount the details of the abuse or neglect endured without once again suffering the trauma,” said Sandra Lok, a crisis response coordinator for Tails of Joy, an animal assisted therapy organization, who has also worked for decades with DCF.

“There is an instant bond between a hurt, innocent child and the unconditional affection of a therapy dog. There’s a level of security and safety that these animals can provide that quite simply a human cannot give to a child who has been through an indescribable pain,” said Renee DiNino, of The River 105.9. “The courage and strength the child will draw from these pets will help to ensure those accused of the unthinkable, will get properly identified and punished,” she added.

“The stress that therapy animals alleviate and the hearts they warm are countless. I am proud that the Committee on Children has been a leader in promoting our Connecticut volunteer teams and the excellent work they do,” Urban said.