The Prince William County Department of Social Service has added to its staff. Meyer, a yellow lab who is adept at comforting children, recently arrived at the department. He is trained and ready to go to work.
Meyer is the first facility dog in the area trained to work with children for a social services department. Facility dogs train for two years to learn to comfort children and others who are dealing with the stress of being involved in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.
Sarah Weatherford, a Family Services Worker with the department, recently completed an intensive two-week training program to learn how to work with Meyer. He’s trained to lay his head in a traumatized child’s lap and remain still to comfort the child; and he can also place his front paws on a child’s lap if the child wants more interaction.
Weatherford said Meyer could also do regular dog tricks. “Meyer can shake hands. He’s an expert at that.”
Unlike service dogs that assist people with disabilities or pet therapy dogs that visit people at places such as senior living facilities and hospitals, Meyer will go to work every day with Weatherford to provide silent comfort and support to children and other vulnerable people. Some of the children Meyer will help will be victims of abuse and those who are about to be placed in foster care.
“The kids will be given the opportunity to have Meyer in the room with them while they talk about the trauma they’ve experienced. He’ll be there to comfort them,” Weatherford said.
In order to get Meyer on board at the department, people there had to demonstrate the need for a facility dog and submit a written application along with a PowerPoint presentation, participate in a telephone interview, sit for a face-to-face interview, and pass home and office environment inspections.
Janine Sewell, director of the Department of Social Services, said Meyer will be at work every day and will probably be busy while he’s there. “He’s not here to play. He’s here to work. We’re supposed to have him work 72 percent of the time that he’s here in the office. We could also get a call from the detectives that we need to bring him over to the police station, so that he can help there.”
Sewell said she’s confident in Meyer, but said it might be challenging to keep people in the office from wanting to be near him. “They can’t just go in and visit him anytime. That’s going to be the hardest thing.”
At the end of the work day, Meyer will go home with Weatherford to enjoy the life of a pet dog. “He’s been a perfect family dog. He has a natural desire to be around kids,” Weatherford said.
Meyer was trained by the Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) campus in Medford, New York, a non-profit assistance dog organization. Meyer is one of 59 facility dogs assisting professionals affiliated with the criminal justice system in 23 states.