The two-year-old Labrador retriever is ‘an old soul’ who likes to play, has more than 250 skills and responds to 60 different commands

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A third facility dog ​​has joined the Zebra Child Protection Center team to help a growing number of children cope with abuse and other traumatic experiences.

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The center’s CEO Emmy Stuebing said Friday a record number of 3,844 children and youth in the Edmonton area were helped in 2021, compared to 2,844 kids supported in 2020.

“Optimistically, we really like to think that more abuse is being reported,” Stuebing said.

“That’s a big part of our mandate too, is to raise awareness, that if you suspect something is happening, report it. There’s no harm in reporting, that’s when the experts will come in and investigate and if there’s nothing, it’s OK, but if there’s something we can help.”

That’s when facility dogs, like Cajun, come in. The two-year-old black Labrador retriever is the newest addition to the Zebra Center’s Very Important Paws (VIP). He joins Fletcher and Captain with the VIP team after being trained by Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society and knows more than 250 skills and 60 commands.

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“Facility dogs usually eat with a specific temperament. It’s skills-based combined with being a great companion in terms of demeanour, and in Cajun’s case, he’s just very calm,” said Miranda Jordan-Smith, CEO of Dogs with Wings.

“He’s kind of an old soul. I have likes to play. I mean he gets his downtime as a dog but he was just a great match for the Zebra Center given the work that they do.”

When a child comes to the Zebra Centre, they have been through a traumatic experience and can be very afraid, Stuebing said.

“As soon as a dog walks into the room, you can just see them relax,” she said. “Sometimes all they need is just having this wonderful four-legged guy right beside them just to kind of comfort them. Sometimes they talk to the dogs if they’re not ready to talk to people.”

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The number one reason for referral continues to be sexual abuse, but there has also been growth in complex cases, such as internet crimes.

“There was a file last year that had one bad guy, but about 100 children were tied to it, they had been asked for photos and what not. So all of those kids were coming in, and that was just for one complex file,” Stuebing said.

Last year, the facility dog ​​team met with children and youth 622 times to lend support within the center, during their forensic interviews and through judicial proceedings. There were 260 children accompanied on 188 court dates.

There were also 1,938 forensic interviews conducted, an increase of 43 per cent from 2020.

The Zebra Center hopes the children they help will be able to move forward in life in a positive way and heal some of the trauma they have experienced.

“We know that trauma is tricky and we know that it can rear, the effects of it can rear its head at any time,” Stuebing said. “But we are hopeful that by us helping as soon as we can when something bad happens, these children are poised for success going forward.”

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