A new facility dog at the Zebra Centre for Child Protection will help the agency that supports children who have been abused as it manages a surging caseload.
On Friday, the centre announced Cajun, a two-year-old black Labrador retriever, would join current facility dogs, Fletcher and Captain, in offering comfort to children who are giving police interviews or testifying in court.
"They are just wound up, they're so afraid. And literally, as soon as a dog walks into the room you can just see them relax. And sometimes all they need is this wonderful four-legged guy right beside them to just comfort them," CEO Emmy Stuebing said at a news conference..
The downtown Edmonton centre provides a kid-friendly alternative to going to a police station to report abuse or talk about a crime they've witnessed.
The centre can also help kids prepare to go to court, support them when they attend and connect their young clients with services to heal from any trauma they've experienced.
Demand for Zebra Centre services increased dramatically in 2021 over the previous year.
According to statistics released on Friday, the number of children supported by the centre grew by 35 per cent, from 2,844 to 3,844, and the number of new cases opened increased by 71 per cent, from 974 to 1,666.
"Optimistically, we like to think that more abuse is being reported," Stuebing said when asked about the numbers.
But she said there has also been growth in complex, online investigations where one perpetrator has targeted multiple children.
Cajun spent his first two years being trained by the Dogs with Wings Assistance Dog Society before being placed with the Zebra Centre. He knows over 250 skills and 60 commands, said society CEO Miranda Jordan-Smith.
"We just know that the impact of him joining the Zebra team will be invaluable," Jordan-Smith said.
Cajun is the fourth Dogs with Wings dog to join the Zebra Centre, including Fletcher, Captain and Wren, who retired last fall.