Intelligent, amiable, even-tempered and gentle is how beagles are generally described. It is no wonder then that veteran search and rescue policeman Jack Haskins chose this breed of dog to assist him as a “comfort” and therapy dog at the Angel’s Care Crisis Centre for abused women and children in Howick.
Haskins, a police lieutenant, retired from the police force in 2016 following a lengthy career in search and rescue.
Working at the centre as its manager for more than four years, “Uncle Jack” as he is known there by the pre-schoolers, is enjoying every minute of joy that Buddy, their new paw pal, has brought to the centre.
Established 18 years ago, the centre provides for the holistic and optimal growth of children from indigent homes in the area by providing an education centre (pre-school for 75 children between the ages of three and six, a bridging class for 10 children and an aftercare programme), a feeding programme for about 500 children; and a crisis centre for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, abuse and neglect — all made possible through generous donors. Most victims helped by the crisis centre come from areas of extreme poverty, such as the informal settlements around Howick, and 60% of cases are of children under 12.
The centre was founded by forensic geneticist Dr Carolyn Hancock, and has become a “safe haven” for children and women who have been victims of gender-based violence where they can report the assault, with a social worker and nurse on standby for the child’s needs.
It was Dr Hancock’s recent visit to a similar centre in America where she experienced first-hand therapy and the connection made between an abused child and a dog. “It was amazing, how this child, who previously refused to even talk or get near anyone, just opened up to the dog. It was a light-bulb moment and I called Jack asking him why we didn’t have such a dog at the centre. And the rest, as they say, is history,” said Dr Hancock.
Worldwide studies have shown that incorporating dogs in therapeutic approaches for children who have been sexually abused seems to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I’m now training Buddy to interact with the children and will eventually also be training him for search and rescue missions. It’s such a pleasure to already see the children here warming up to him,” said Haskins.
“A few years ago, we were dealing with a rape case, where a child refused to talk to us [or] even show us where the incident took place. Back then I had my dog Butch and I told the child to take Butch for a walk just so she could get her mind off things.
“I was very surprised when she took the leash, she began talking to the dog as if it was a friend, and indeed, they did go for a walk — right to the area where it all happened.
“We just followed quietly taking notes as she spoke. It’s amazing how children respond to dogs and Buddy is going to be of such a help to us,” said Haskins.
Georgina Purdon, the centre’s marketing manager and fundraiser, said Buddy was the “perfect distraction”.
“He is here for a brighter future and one where we heal more broken hearts, minds and bodies. We have no doubt, that like, our centre, Buddy is going to give hope to those who have none,” said Purdon.