Multnomah County Juvenile Services Division partners with DoveLewis to bring therapy dogs into custody

September 28, 2022

Multnomah County Juvenile Services Division video in partnership with the DoveLewis Canine Therapy Team.

There’s something about a pet’s loving gaze and gentle disposition that, for many, not only brightens a room, but can make a bad day better. In reality, studies have shown obvious health benefits of having pets: loving animals can actually lower blood pressure, alleviate depression and feelings of loneliness, and reduce stress.

Multnomah County Juvenile Services Division is leveraging this concept by partnering with DoveLewis Portland Area Canine Therapy Teams to bring therapy dogs to the Donald E. Long Detention Center in northeast Portland.

Therapy dogs are a step beyond everyday pets: they are expert trained dogs with thousands of hours of training in crisis response, forensic victim support, psychological first aid and in personal care, allowing them to help in a variety of environments and situations. Canine therapy teams visit schools, courtrooms, hospitals, care centers and crisis year scenes. Their work has now expanded to include the Donald E. Long County Detention Center, a 64-bed youth detention facility operated by the Multnomah County Community Justice Department.

There, young people are often supported by a variety of programs, including spiritual support, health services, peer support groups, recreation, library services and education. But every three weeks for at least 45 minutes, two black Labrador Retrievers named Dolly and Sandy were added to the repertoire to serve as a source of comfort to staff and young people involved in the justice system.

“These dogs are quite empathetic,” said Kathy Brunk, dog handler and member of the DoveLewis Portland area canine therapy teams. “They know which person needs the most care. And Sandy will definitely target someone and stay with them all the time.

“Put smiles on these kids’ faces and take the stress away,” said Denise Duncan, manager and member of the Portland area canine therapy teams. “They love the interaction, they love the contact with these dogs. We really notice it, we really notice it. It feels good.”

Visits are part of overall efforts creating a more trauma-friendly and developmentally appropriate environment for young peopleincluding renovating the physical environment of the detention center and incorporating more restorative practices and support for prosocial and positive change.

“Some of these children have gone through situations in their lives that many of us are fortunate enough to not even understand what it might entail,” said Adreanna Torralba, Multnomah County Juvenile Child Care Specialist, responsible for the general care of young people in the establishment.

“These children are going through traumatic events that affect their behavior and impact their success in life. So when we address these traumas and rehabilitate the children, they are more likely to succeed when they leave us.”

“The previous facility I worked at for 4 1/2 years, the therapist had service animals and the unit had service animals,” said Jersey Rodriguez, also a child care specialist. of the Division.

“It created a foundation for our young people because in situations where they were going through a crisis, young people would always ask for one of our service animals. In that moment when they couldn’t connect with a person, they were still able to connect with the animal because that animal is non-judgmental. They are there to console you and be there to help regulate you and it was truly phenomenal to watch and be a part of.


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Jennifer R. Strohm