by Arlene Shovald
Special to The Mail
Sometimes furry counselors are as good or better than their human counterparts with a lot of letters after their names.
Such is the case with therapy dogs and in particular those used in restorative justice programs. Salida author Patricia E. LaTaille, program director of Chaffee County’s Full Circle Restorative Justice, writes of this important work in “Paws 4 Peace – Enhancing Restorative Practices with Therapy Dogs.”
The brief but informative 37-page book tells how she was inspired to begin using therapy dogs and how they have helped in the restorative justice program where youthful offenders face their victims in a circle with facilitators trained to assist in reaching a solution that is workable for both parties. The process is intended to provide justice for the victim and at the same time keep the young offender from acquiring a record.
Imagine the anxiety on both sides as victim and perpetrator meet face to face. This is where the presence of a dog, trained to work with humans in anxiety-provoking situations, can be a tremendous asset. A loving canine companion can “work a room,” de-escalate the tension and pave the way to a resolution.
LaTaille wrote the book to inspire and encourage fellow restorative justice facilitators and the dedicated individuals involved in this critical social justice work and to encourage facilitators to bring therapy dog teams into their practice.
Dogs and handlers are especially trained for this program, and the handler must be certified as a restorative justice facilitator.
LaTaille explains that therapy dogs and service dogs are different. Service dogs are trained to aid a person with a specific problem and are not to be petted and handled. Therapy dogs, like those used during a restorative justice session, provide emotional support, and being able to pet the dog helps calm the participants.
A preconference evaluation determines if a dog would be beneficial. Things like an allergy to dogs, for example, are considered.
The human-animal bond was the focus of LaTaille’s graduate thesis for the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1997, and she introduced it to the Chaffee County Full Circle Restorative Justice program three years ago.
“Paws 4 Peace” is interesting reading for anyone, but especially so for those working in healing, negotiating and other professions where a calming influence is beneficial.
The book sells for $12.95 and is available locally at The Book Haven, 135 F St.; The Hodgepodge, 1548 G St., Unit 7; from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 719-221-3069; or on Amazon.