The dog who comforts victims at the Children’s Justice Center

Clark County

Minnie is a therapy dog whose job is to sit with victims as they share their testimonies

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Some heroes wear fur instead of capes—just ask the victims who share their difficult stories at the Children’s Justice Center in Vancouver.

A team of trained responders works at the center to address crimes against children. Among their ranks is a four-legged employee named Minnie.

Minnie is a yellow lab whose job is comforting children who come to the Children’s Justice Center. She sits with them as they talk to prosecutors about often traumatic experiences. Minnie also provides support for adult victims through the main prosecutor’s office.

Minnie with handler Derin Gibson at the Children’s Justice Center in Vancouver, Feb. 21, 2020. (KOIN)

Her handler, Victim Advocate Derin Gibson, said Minnie is made available to any victims who need the special kind of comfort only she can offer.

“Her job is to be next to a victim, so we want her to stay down and right at their feet and that way they know that she’s there; they can feel her, they can bend down and pet her,” said Gibson.

Minnie went through about 18 months of training by Canine Companions for Independence, a California-based nonprofit group that prepares assistance dogs for specific jobs. She came to the Children’s Justice Center a little over a year ago. Scott Jackson, the chief deputy at the prosecutor’s office, saw a need for a therapy dog at CJC and contacted Canine Companions for Independence.

“He saw how children responded and reacted to having a therapy dog and what a huge difference it made for them,” said Gibson. “They could actually look forward to something with coming here.”

After waiting for about a year-and-a-half, Jackson traveled to Santa Rosa where he underwent two weeks of training. CCI ultimately paired him with Minnie.

It was the perfect match. Gibson said Minnie’s presence at the Children’s Justice Center makes a huge difference for victims.

“I watch children who look very fearful and have a lot of anxiety and the moment they see Minnie, their eyes light up, they get happy and they’re smiling. -That’s not something that we typically see when they have to come here.”

Gibson said therapy dogs carrying out jobs like Minnie’s are still uncommon but she hopes to see more victim advocacy centers follow suit.

“Having the knowledge that she exists is pretty important,” Gibson said. “I’m really happy that people know about her and people are aware that she’s here and how important it was that this organization — that CJC and for the prosecutor’s office — to have her. We feel extremely fortunate that we have her and that we can offer her to the kids. It’s an important part of what we do here.”

Even though Minnie’s a working dog and has important duties, she still gets to let her fur down at the end of the day. Gibson said Minnie knows her shift is over when the vest comes off: her demeanor shifts back into a playful, normal dog who just likes to chew on toys and wrestle with her canine pals.

“Once the vest goes back on, she knows she’s working and her personality completely changes,” Gibson said. “She becomes very obedient, very docile and waiting for a command from me.”

Minnie plays with therapy-dog-in-training, Gandalf, at the Children’s Justice Center in Vancouver, Feb. 21, 2020. (KOIN)

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