Rescue Dogs "Rescue" Victims of Domestic Violence

Crisis Center North, a domestic violence non-profit in Pittsburgh's North Hills has started an innovative program to help their clients that is winning national recognition.

Imagine it's the worst day of your life, but it becomes just a little bit better because someone brought a friendly dog help you through it. That's the concept behind the Paws for Empowerment program at Crisis Center North, an organization that supports victims of domestic violence in the northern and western suburbs of Pittsburgh.

Paws for Empowerment launched in 2007 with the adoption of a black and white shelter dog named Penny from Action for Animals in Latrobe. CCN Executive Director Grace Coleman got the idea of using support dogs to help domestic violence victims from her father, who always said "a good dog is a dog that has a job" she recalled. "I wanted to bring shelter dogs into a place where they could do great works."

Penny is trained to serve as a canine court advocate, accompanying victims when they have to testify against their abusers. Crisis Center North has trained a second dog, Ari, to work with victims in counseling. "They know when people need help," explained Canine Advocate Cheri Herschel. "They just have an innate sense of caring."

"They know when people need help." Canine Advocate Cheri Herschel

CCN is getting national attention and recognition for the program. In 2017 they won the Governor's Victim Service Pathfinder awards from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

While Verizon is a corporate sponsor of the program, their sponsorship and government funding only cover part of the cost. 40% of CCN's funding comes from individual donations. Crisis Center North could also use additional volunteers to help train the dogs, including teens who could become part of their "Canine Kids" program, like Wyatt (pictured at the top of the story hugging Ari). They also need volunteers to serve as board members, and to staff their 24-hour hotline and educational outreach.

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