Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crisis Center North Gets Grant for Canine Program

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crisis Center North Gets Grant for Canine Program

Article excerpt

Penny is just like any other dog - until someone attaches her special vest.

Then, the spaniel mix becomes a full-fledged member of Crisis Center North's Canine Court program.

Her owner, Grace Coleman, executive director of Crisis Center North, said Penny is the first and only canine advocate in the courts in Allegheny County. Penny also is used as a canine therapist in the counseling program, she said.

As a therapy dog, Penny helps guide and comfort victims of domestic violence during counseling sessions at Crisis Center North. As a court advocate, Penny can provide tranquility to those who need it before, during and after testimony.

Verizon Wireless recently donated $5,000 to Crisis Center North to help with costs for Penny's handler and trainer. The funds were from Verizon's HopeLine program in which discarded wireless phones and accessories are collected, then turned into support for domestic violence organizations nationwide.

Erica Sevilla, public relations manager for Verizon Wireless, said Penny is proof that everyone has a role in eradicating domestic violence.

"It's amazing how Penny gives comfort to abuse survivors and their children," Ms. Sevilla said. "She's incredibly intuitive."

Tom Swan of Richland, deputy district attorney in charge of asset forfeitures, said money seized from drug trafficking and prosecution has paid for more than half a million drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs over several years.

"Such dogs cost between $5,000 and $15,000 to purchase, as well as the cost of the handler, trainer and upkeep," he said, noting that dogs like Penny require additional training to deal with autism- spectrum disorders, which costs another $5,000.

In July 2013, Penny became the first canine in Allegheny County and the first shelter dog in the state to provide canine advocacy services in the courtroom where the setting can become uncomfortable when the victim must confront and interact with the attacker for the first time since the incident.

"Not only is the victim required to meet face-to-face with the defendant, but also she/he is recalling and describing, in great detail, the violent incident to a judge," Ms. …

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