Child abuse victims in Bloomington, Illinois have a new friend to provide love and comfort. Joch (pronounced Jock) is a two-year-old black Labrador and is the first support dog to come to McLean County. He was trained in the Support Dogs Inc. program, based in St. Louis. The advocacy program hopes that Joch can help their youngest victims better deal with stress and anxiety. Sources say that Will and Lake Counties also offer the use of support dogs. The Child Protection Network, a 501(c)(3 )organization that supports several child advocacy programs across the State, provided the funds for Joch to be brought to the center in McLean County.
Chicago based family lawyer, Michael Ian Bender, thinks the utilization of a support dog is an excellent way to combat the feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem that often plague survivors of child abuse. “Children who have been severely traumatized by those closest to them often feel that their trust has been betrayed,” says Bender. “Animals like Joch are invaluable therapeutic resources, because they provide a source of love and emotional support that aids in recovery,” he adds.
Formerly a Cook County Judge with the Domestic Relations Division, Bender has returned to private practice in downtown Chicago. His passion rests with preventing child abuse, and he vigorously advocates to protect abused, at-risk, and neglected children.
Though Joch is primarily meant to help children while they are at the center, Illinois and Federal law makes it possible for him to accompany the children into the courtroom while they testify or speak to the Judge in chambers. Joch’s handlers are working on training him for this possibility, as he could be required to lay down for extended periods of time at a child’s feet while in court. Joch’s presence in the courtroom could help ease the anxiety of traumatized children and make being in court less stressful for the child.
Judy Brucker, director of the advocacy center, was excited to welcome Joch to the program. “Best practice research shows that kids do well if they are feeling comforted at a time when they are anxious and they’ve experience some sort of trauma,” she explains.
Michael Bender is in favor of the expanded use of support animals throughout Illinois Court houses. Though it is less common in Chicago for children to be called to testify, Bender firmly believes that support dogs could still do a lot of good in the courthouses.
“Oftentimes, children are stuck in the middle of some really messy divorce and paternity cases,” he explains. “They typically have to wait in a separate playroom while the parents hash it out in court,” he continues. “And having a support animal like Joch by their side while waiting, could certainly help them relax and alleviate the stress associated with the process.”
It is Bender’s hope that when it becomes necessary for children to be in the courthouse, more children will have the opportunity to be comforted by support dogs like Joch. Bender adds, “Of course it would be better if children were not abused in the first place.”