A highlight for the Oak Centre team in 2020 was the addition of Cirque, an Accredited Facility Dog (AFD)

As an AFD Cirque’s role is to maintain a calm presence and help reduce anxiety for children and youth as they are interviewed, attend court or meet with advocates. The calming affect of Cirque on those that engage with her is incredible. For example, a young child who would not speak to any of the adults in the room, hiding their head in their caregiver’s arm, was handed the leash . The child immediately sat up and started to speak excitedly. From that point on the professionals were able to open up a dialogue with the child and start to build trust. This type of scenario has become a regular occurrence as Cirque settles into her work at the centre.

Cirque was trained and placed with Oak Child and Youth Advocacy Centre and Archway Society for Domestic Peace by the talented team at PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society). We had discussed an AFD from the very development of Oak Centre at the urging of one of the frontline child protection social workers. Over the years we had visits from AFDs in training and met with other handlers who had AFDs in their centre and saw the benefit of a placement of a facility dog within a child and youth advocacy centre. In 2019 we connected with a regional trainer and from there we were put in touch with the trainers at PADS in Burnaby. We worked with them to identify handlers in our agency and to go through the application process. It was very important that the dog placed with us had the right skills to work with our vulnerable clients and be able to adapt to different work settings – during meetings with young clients and professionals, in police interviews  and with children and in courtrooms.

A match was found for us and we started team training in May 2020 with Cirque. Our team graduated in September after written exams for the humans and a practical skills test for the humans and Cirque. A virtual graduation celebration was held in December. Cirque is a remarkable dog and all who meet her are amazed by her skills and calm demeanor.  We look forward to having Cirque as part of the team for many years to come.