Harmony brings peace to kids at CARES Northwest
The latest staff member at CARES Northwest listens to kids, makes them feel safe, doesn't judge them and she even helps them close the door.
Harmony is a 4-year-old Golden Lab, trained at Canine Companions for Independence. She joined the staff earlier this year and soon brought her "calm and loving presence" not only into therapy with some of the dozens of children that seek therapy, but also to their parents and staff.
Located near Legacy Emanuel, CARES Northwest provides counseling for kids who have been neglected or abused. Their services also include medical evaluations and prevention.
CARES evaluates about 1,500 kids each year and recommend counseling for slightly more than half of them. Legacy, along with three other local health care systems, support the program, which also recently received a $5 million anonymous gift.
Counselor Allie Feldman says Harmony helps bring out kids who are quietly struggling to tell their stories. On the other end of the spectrum, Harmony helps calm kids who have difficulty regulating themselves and sitting through therapy sessions.
Feldman says one of her 8-year-old clients credited the dog with giving her a safe space to do the hard work of therapy. Feldman said the girl told her, "I didn’t used to be able to talk about this, but now I can because Harmony came in and now I feel safe."
The dog seems to anticipate the needs of the children, observes Holly Bridenbaugh, a 17-year CARES employee and Harmony’s owner. Harmony will often come over to them during therapy, even before they've expressed some big emotions. She often puts her head on their feet to comfort them.
Bridenbaugh waited three years for the dog and spent two weeks training with her. She credits Harmony for giving their team some "positive, fun, and lighthearted" energy that’s much needed in dealing with the trauma inherent in their work.
Feldman says kids who come to CARES Northwest are often "ashamed, afraid and worried" about sharing the stories of their abuse, but Harmony "doesn't judge them," she said, and she also listens to them.
Harmony gives kids who don't feel they've been heard her full attention. She puts them at the center, Feldman said. Harmony not only is free from judgment, but she also does tricks like shutting doors and flinging treats from her nose.Feldman hopes that as the organization grows, there might be room for more facility dogs and perhaps the dogs could accompany kids to court when they have to face their abusers.
About 70 children have graduated from CARES Northwest. The staff hopes the new $5M gift will help the organization grow and be able to help even more kids.
To find out more about their program or to donate, visit the CARES Northwest website.