Dogs in service of police and public safety are on the frontline and trained for police work in the field; they are crime fighters and defenders of public safety.
A therapy dog, on the other hand, also works alongside police, but has been trained for service to victims of crime.
Finnegan, a six-year-old Labrador Retriever, is the newest member of Victim Services Powell River and the first under its therapy dog program. Finnegan, or Finn, represents the latest in what Powell River Community Services Association brings to the community.
The organization provides the city with violence prevention, counselling, outreach, support for children who witness abuse, a poverty-law advocate and specialized victim and police-based victim services. It is under the latter that Finn fits in, according to victim services coordinator Christine Schreiber.
“We offer emotional support to people who have just experienced crime or trauma,” said Schreiber. “The dog program will help people coming in to give a statement to police who have been a victim of crime. We also go out with the police and do on-scene support for people who have just been victims of, or have witnessed, a crime.”
Finn is still being trained through an online class offered by Caring K9 Institute in Prince George. After completing level one, he is now working on the second of four levels.
“When he completes level four, he should also be able to provide support in the courtroom for people providing testimony as victims or witnesses of crimes,” said Schreiber. “He would be present in the courtroom.”
With his duties just underway, Powell River RCMP constable Kerri Chard said Finn is an exciting addition to the detachment.
“Finn is here to do an important job,” said Chard. “When he is present to provide support to victims involved in a police investigation, Finn will be able to help the victims feel comfort during difficult or stressful experiences.”
While Finn is in the detachment on a daily basis with Schreiber, he is not an RCMP dog. He is a therapy dog offering support to victims of crime and part of an outside agency. If anyone requires the victim services program, Finn is made available.
“He’s there if somebody walks in and needs assistance or requires support,” said Schreiber.
A dog can break through emotional barriers, according to Schreiber.
“Generally speaking, therapy dogs are non-judgmental,” she said, “and they’re calm and provide a grounding approach with anybody who loves a dog.”