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K-9 Therapy Dog Jamboree

July 23, 2020

Jamboree plopped on the floor belly up with paws in the air. If dogs could smile, she would be grinning from ear to ear. Rolling around on her back, she offered up her tummy for scratches as her handler and therapy dog coordinator Laurie Schwabauer leaned down to oblige.

Immediately, any tension seemingly dissipated from the room as the 4-year-old German Shephard did precisely what she was trained to do – make people feel more relaxed – particularly innocent children up against the daunting task of testifying in court.

As a therapy dog, Jamboree has been extensively trained to sit quietly out of view under the witness stand in a courtroom, where children can easily pet her or lean a foot against her side to help make them feel safe and not alone. Since legally Jamboree cannot be seen by the jury, a big part of her training is making sure she sits perfectly still, while also helping the children remain calm.

In her two years with the team, Jamboree has already stockpiled a long list of accolades. Along with being a specialty trained and nationally certified K-9 advocate, she also has a unique skillset as both a working psychiatric medical alert service dog for panic disorders as well as a second certification geared to helping those with anxiety disorders and stress.

She’s also logged about 300 hours of foundation and advanced obedience task and public access training, including devoting hours of training to prepare her to work obediently and unobtrusively in public places. In May, the pup completed her final phase of courtroom orientation training with the ability to perform more than 40 commands. This is just one of the ways that the Visitation and Advocacy Center (VAC), formerly CASA, helps advocate and give a voice to children in need throughout Campbell, Weston and Crook counties. Along with their in-house facility/therapy dog, VAC also has 53 volunteer advocates who currently help more than 200 local children in need. The organization receives all child abuse and neglect cases throughout the three counties and serves as the voice for children in and out of court.

Many times, during a juvenile case, a child tends to become lost. An advocate is there to ensure that this doesn’t happen, becoming familiar with the child in order to assist in doing what is in his/her best interest.

Along with advocating for children, VAC also facilitates supervised visitation for parents, including working with parents to create a co-parenting custody plan that’s in the best interest of the child(ren), while also allowing both parents to play a significant role in their lives.

To this end, they also offer light mediation and assistance filing Pro Se Orders and help with filing documents.

Their office on S. Carey Avenue also serves as a neutral and judgement-free place for parents to exchange children according to their custodial rights.  Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the group stayed busy. Over the last year, they’ve facilitated 678 visits and 621 exchanges, helping 2,330 individual clients for a total of 971 hours. During COVID-19, their services were slightly altered when their office was closed and staff members ere forced to work from home, but now they are back in the office and offering all of their normal services, which given the stress on many families during this time, are arguably more important today than ever. VAC is always looking for volunteer advocates, Hyde said.

As the staff likes to say, it’s an investment of a just a little time, but a lot of heart.

A mainstay in the community for years, VAC has been helping Northeast Wyoming parents create and maintain co-parenting custody plans for their child or children, offering a safe place for parents to visit and exchange children, as well as serving as advocates for children both inside and out of the courtroom.

Advocate training is offered monthly, both in-person and via Zoom.

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