A Kid’s Best Friend

Author: Laura J. Leonard

Some say that a dog is a man’s best friend. Well, in this case, SAYLOR, a three-year-old yellow lab, aims to become the best friend for children in the New Hanover Juvenile Detention Center.

An affectionate, expressive SAYLOR joined the center June 9 and has been making friends ever since.

She is the first facility dog placed at a detention center by the paws4people foundation, a nonprofit organization that places assistance dogs with individuals and facilities with the purpose of helping people.

The “match made in heaven” came about because Sherry Cain had a vision – one that would encourage comfort and support from a canine best friend to nervous, uncertain children who enter the detention center.

Cain, the center’s supervisor, attended the NCGIA Gangs Across the Carolinas conference in 2015. At the end of the conference, paws4people gave a presentation about its assistance dogs. Cain worked with paws4people to have puppies brought to the center every Friday to give encouragement to the children and help the children learn about assistance dogs.

“We started out volunteering here and bringing puppies once a week to visit with the children,” said Sam Cleary, marketing and events coordinator for paws4people. “We would come by for an hour during their school time and teach them about what assistance dogs do for people and how we train them. The children seemed to really enjoy it.”

The weekly visit had such positive impacts that Cain sought to get an assistance dog for the center full time. She applied to receive a facility dog from paws4people in the winter of 2016, and it was accepted in March.

“Having SAYLOR at New Hanover Juvenile Detention gives the staff there one more tool that can be used to create a calm, therapeutic environment,” said Jim Speight, director of Juvenile Facility Operations within the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. “I hope this K9 program can expand to other facilities in North Carolina over time.”

Juvenile detention centers are secure, temporary facilities where a juvenile will stay while waiting to go to court or until a more appropriate and long-term placement can be arranged. Juvenile detention centers provide quality services and programs for juveniles based on their individual needs, to give youths opportunities for positive behavioral change and development.

Before SAYLOR could be at the center full-time, she had to get to know Cain and vice versa. SAYLOR had spent a year being trained by inmates in a West Virginia correctional institution before she came to Wilmington. Once in the area, she received ongoing training through a joint program with the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in which recreational therapy students assist in training assistance dogs. Following the training, SAYLOR met Cain, who had to receive some training herself. Staff from paws4people helped Cain learn commands that SAYLOR knew and how to have her interact with the children.

“We started coming out here once a week on a training basis to see how SAYLOR would respond to Sherry (Cain),”said Cleary. “Right off the bat, I could see that it was a perfect match. SAYLOR is a very bonding dog, and she bonded to Sherry right away. SAYLOR is right by her side, and she just loves the children.”

SAYLOR is no slouch. She has a busy day from the time she enters the door until it is time for her to leave. She comes to the center with Cain every day. Cain brings her to circle time – a time in which the children get to talk about events from the night before, issues that affect them and concerns about returning home.

“The children just love her,” said Cain. “In fact, they ask ‘Is SAYLOR coming back tomorrow?’ With her being her, she deters a lot of the negative behavior we’ve seen in the past. There has been a lot of positive behavior because she has been here. Little things but major impacts for us.”

Known as “SAY-SAY” to the children and staff, SAYLOR give them an opportunity cope with the stress of being detained. She also helps with de-escalation of potential out-of-control behaviors and provides comfort for possible victims of some form of trauma or abuse, not to mention comfort, compassion and encouragement.

One of the next steps for SAYLOR is her participation in the center’s reading program. Children who have been detained continue their education while at the center.

“We’re hoping that having SAYLOR present will give them encouragement to come out and participate in school. Starting out, she will be integral in a reading program where the children can sit with her and just have relaxed time … just reading and petting her and focusing on her.”

SAYLOR puts a smile on the face of everyone she meets. While she is there to help the children, she also encourages the staff.

“SAYLOR has a lot of personality and is a ball of energy,” said Cain. “Having her here is a big de-stressor. She’s the type of dog, with her face, when everybody sees her, they just smile. She is already providing rays of sunshine for the kids and staff.”

Placing Dogs for a Cause

Founded in 1999, paws4people’s mission is educating and empowering people to use assistance dogs to transform their lives. The foundation specializes in training assistance dogs for children and adolescents with physical, neurological, psychiatric and/or emotional disabilities as well as veterans and service members with chronic/complex post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries or other circumstances. The foundation has placed assistance dogs in 26 states and a province in Canada. Its facility dog program places assistance dogs in facilities such as schools, preschools, nursing homes and courthouses to help provide comfort and encouragement.


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