GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County has a new facility dog that will comfort victims of sexual abuse.
The golden retriever named Bacon joined the staff in March and has been preparing to work with clients.
Marcia Van Soelen is the dog’s handler and a family advocate with the nonprofit.
“The role that Bacon plays here as a facility dog is to provide support and comfort for kids that come in here disclosing abuse,” Van Soelen said.
Bacon was trained by PAWS With a Cause, a Wayland-based organization that specializes in providing assistance dogs. The program placed its first facility dog in 2019 and has trained a total of 26.
PAWS With a Cause gave every dog in Bacon’s litter a breakfast food-related name.
Bacon will be taking over for the current facility dog, which will be moving out of the area with its handler. Van Soelen trained with him before working with Bacon and saw the impact animals can have.
“It’s hard for them not to smile or not to feel those happy feelings and so it can kind of provide a sense of calm and comfort for kids when they are coming in and talking about really hard things,” Van Soelen said.
Bacon is nearly 20 months old, according to Alexis Bolo with PAWS With a Cause.
“We pick dogs like Bacon who have a personality that’s meant to be very social,” Bolo said. “Bacon’s role is to help a facility or a larger group of people versus an assistance dog that will help one individual person.”
The training is not as extensive as it is for a therapy dog. The focus is on mastering basic commands and temperament.
“We go through a foster puppy program so we have people who help our dogs, raise our dogs for about a year, and then after that they go into a prison program where they receive five months of additional training,” Bolo said.
The dogs complete an additional eight to 12 more weeks of training once matched with an organization. PAWS With a Cause says the demand for the facility dog program has increased.
“We just recognized that through the pandemic and just the different stressors that our community is going through years that the facility dogs are needed in more areas,” Bolo said.