Iggy From National Service Dogs Will Touch Many Young Lives.
You’ve probably heard about National Service Dogs before, perhaps in one of our previous articles or videos like this one about a boy with autism named Max who’s life was changed when he got NSD Chester. We believe the benefits of service dogs, facility dogs and therapy dogs can be immense.
You may not have heard of the BOOST Child and Youth Advocacy Centre and the work they do helping children affected by abuse. My husband was on the board for several years and I helped with making videos and fundraising for them.
I could not have been more thrilled when these two wonderful organizations were the recipients of a donation from Canadian Pet Expo to finance a dog to support BOOST’s work with children. What BOOST is starting to do with Iggy from National Service Dogs is quite frankly amazing.
Who is Iggy from National Service Dogs?
NSD Iggy is a 2 year-old black lab who has been training his entire life to help people. The “NSD” stands for National Service Dogs and the type of training he received in those 2 years was extensive. Iggy would have been trained for all of the general things that service dogs need to be prepared for like having a calm, consistent temperament, being completely non-reactive to loud noises or sudden movement and being good with people. What makes Iggy unique though is that he’s not actually a service dog in the way you might be imagining. Iggy is what’s called a Facility Dog and was brought up through the NSD Canine Assisted Intervention program (CAI) trained for helping children affected by abuse. When we sat down with Karyn Kennedy, President and CEO of Boost, she explained just what that meant.
“One of the things that makes Iggy really different from other service dogs that you may have heard about is that Iggy doesn’t respond to just one handler, he responds to commands and can work with different “handlers”. One of the challenges we’ve run into in the past with people coming in with their own dogs as a therapy dogs is that the handler needs to be in the room. For a child going through an investigation, often the fewer people in the room the better.”
Karyn went on to tell us a heartwarming story about a scared little girl in the USA who, during her initial police interview, wasn’t ready to open up about the details of the abuse she’d experienced, but when left alone with the interviewing officer’s dog, felt she could tell the dog what happened. And that is only one example.
There’s also been a very successful program in the US called Courthouse Dogs that has been a great baseline for getting this program started in Canada. Karyn said that the most notable thing she took from seeing the American model is that Judges seem to have no problem with it and so far there has not been a case where the Judge has not allowed a facility dog to be present with a victim.
NSD Iggy and BOOST
BOOST Child and Youth Advocacy Centre provides support to children and youth who have experienced abuse. With a team made up of Police, Child Protection workers, nurses, advocates, therapists and court support workers all accessible in one place, BOOST is an incredible support network for children impacted by abuse at different stages.
Iggy is filling a role not quite like any other there. Iggy is available for any child who might be interested in meeting him to accompany them through any part of the process they may be going through. This means Iggy could be present for therapy sessions, police interviews, medical evaluations and soon in a courtroom should a child need to testify against their abuser. Iggy’s Sister NSD Merel is already working in courtrooms in London, Ontario and doing a wonderful job providing comfort. So far Iggy has been present for therapy sessions with several adolescent girls.
How NSD Iggy The Facility Dog Will Be Helping Children Affected by Abuse
Iggy offers comfort most of all. People at BOOST have described him as having “A special kind of spirit” and said that he offers calm and a sense of peace to everyone around him. He seems to intuitively know when someone is in need of comfort and offers that to them in his unique, soft, furry way. So far, Iggy has been present for therapy sessions with several adolescent girls and also offering comfort even just in the waiting room and play rooms. For children and youth who may not be in a place to feel comforted by human touch, Iggy offers them a safe, non-threatening physical security, as well as the usual physiological benefits of looking at and patting a dog like lowered stress, improved feelings of well-being. BOOST and Iggy give kids a lift when they need it the most.
“I think kids feel safe around Iggy because they don’t feel that they’re going to be judged or like they’re doing or saying anything wrong. It makes them feel that there’s somebody there just for them.”
Boost has already requested from National Service Dogs to get a third facility dog named Jersey. Iggy and Jersey have the potential to help thousands of children and youth in the coming years. Karyn explained that it won’t be long before Boost has more children coming through their main Centre than Iggy will have time to spend with. At this time Boost sees about 800 children a year for child abuse investigations, and they see another 1000 in their court preparation program, so there is no shortage of situations where Iggy will be able to help.
Training for a Dog like NSD Iggy
Iggy was trained by the incredibly talented people at National Service Dogs of Canada to be able to work in his position at BOOST but Iggy wasn’t the only one who needed to undergo training. Karyn and her staff spent 3 days at the National Service Dogs Facility in Cambridge Ontario training to be able to “handle” Iggy and NSD Jersey who will be doing work like Iggy in another office. The training was to teach all the people who would be working with Iggy the same commands. That’s part of what makes Iggy so special. Unlike a service dog who is trained to respond to a specific person and their needs Iggy was trained to respond to anyone who issues him one of his commands. For example, if Iggy was to be wanted in a meeting between a Police Officer and a child, that Officer would need to know the commands to help Iggy do his job effectively. The commands that Iggy knows are also unique with cues like “Go visit”, “Forward”, “Over” and “Up” as you can see in the video. Karyn told us: “Iggy stays where he is until he’s told to do something different”.
Currently, Karyn is Iggy’s primary handler and he has 4 secondary ones. 2 of those handlers are already police officers and the other 2 are working in BOOST programs.
When NSD Iggy’s Vest Comes Off
When Iggy goes home at the end of the day (and he works Monday to Friday, 8 hour days just like so many of us!), his vest comes off and he is just like any other dog. Iggy actually lives with Karyn and she told us he goes home and gets to go to the park, to run around and play and just enjoy being a dog.