Lovable dog helps NJ investigators connect with child abuse victims
The newest member of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office is 4 years old, covered in fur and has been assigned to the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center.
"Surf," the facility dog is a yellow Labrador retriever who meets with young victims of abuse at the center two days a week, said Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey.
Surf has become the centerpiece of a newly implemented therapy initiative shown to lessen a child victim's anxiety and hopefully improve outcomes of investigations into such crimes.
Facility dogs like Surf bring calm to a child in the midst of what's really a scary experience for most of them, dealing with law enforcement and talking to therapists about unspeakable things no child should ever have to go through, Linskey said.
So, she said bringing a dog into the picture for support, love and to show kindness to that child, really makes all the difference in the world.
Surf's arrival was more than two years in the making, Linskey said. He works 24/7 with his handler, Melissa Boege, program director of the Family Growth Program of Monmouth and Ocean Counties for Catholic Charities. She has been providing therapy to children, teens and adults there since 2014.
"Surf literally provides whatever kind of support and guidance that is needed, whether it's putting his head on a child's lap, whether it's just being next to the child so that they can pet him, whether he's just a presence in the room to sort of calm everything down," Linskey said.
Dogs such as Surf just brings a level of calm to these kids. He's simply non-judgmental, loving and caring, she added.
What happens when Surf sees a child crying? Linskey said he instinctively put his head on that child's lap for them to pet and to let them know everything is going to be okay. Surf has the ideal temperament to perform this kind of work — he's naturally calm, nurturing and reassuring especially in situations that are new, scary and unsettling for any child.
Surf and Boege started working together with clients at the Family Growth Program's Red Bank location just a matter of months after his arrival in New Jersey.
Surf is different from therapy and service dogs, meaning he does not provide therapeutic care or assistance to children. It's just a presence to make the situation that the child is in, in the moment, better, said Linskey.
Unlike therapy and service dogs that normally work with just one person, Surf works with kids in many locations throughout Monmouth County.
Everybody's hope would be that there not be a need for a child advocacy center, that there didn't have to be a special facility that kids who suffer abuse and trauma would have to go to, but unfortunately that is not the case in today's world, Linskey said.
So, not having an advocacy center is not an option. The goal is to now create he most comforting, welcoming, healing environment for kids who have gone through trauma and have suffered at the hands at others. Linskey said t's really special that the county can provide a dog like Surf who can make a horrible experience a little kinder.
Linskey said the children have expressed enthusiasm about working with Surf. They had been excitingly awaiting his arrival at the center and now he's there and is a pure love.
"People are just thrilled. He is a welcome addition. He is the kindest, furriest, most welcomed new employee we've ever had," Linskey said.
Surf may have just started at the child advocacy center but he's already a celebrity. If you would like to follow his work and what he's up to, connect with him on Facebook at Facility Dog Surf, or on Instagram at @facilitydog_surf.
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