A new group of dogs has been certified to join the Therapy Dog Team at Children's Advocacy Center in Cleburne, Texas.
The four new certified dogs are continuing to show that man's best friend can also be a child's best friend, too.
The Children's Advocacy Center in Cleburne provides services to child victims of sexual and physical abuse and children who witness homicides and other violent crimes. The center uses trained dogs to comfort children, allowing them to open up to detectives, counselors, judges or other agencies.
All of the dogs and their owners were guests at a party hosted by the center to celebrate their accomplishments and to welcome the dogs to the next step in their service.
"I wanted to find a way to give back and serve people who needed help," said Gina Mullins, whose Shitzu, Sampson, just graduated. "I learned about the program a few years ago but I didn't have an animal then. Now that I have Sampson, I can help out through him."
The training program lasted six months and was held every Saturday.
"It all went really well," Mullins said. "It was really beneficial to us to get him trained. It's funny because now I can walk down the street and point out every dog that isn't trained."
This year's group of dogs was a successful group, said instructor Sharon Creel.
"We had four volunteers and all four graduated," she said.
The certified dogs and their trainers include Mullins and her dog Sampson; Pat Duper and Lizzie, a Dachshund; Elizabeth McGlaune and Cappi, an Australian Shepherd; and Charlotte Heald and Molli, a Border Collie mix.
Creel has trained dogs for about 40 years -- mainly for competition. But for the last 19 years she has trained therapy dogs.
Her dog, CZ, was the first dog in the program, but has since died. She now has Justin, a yellow Labrador, that helps out at the center.
"When children come in, it's important for them to feel comfortable," she said. "When detectives ask the children certain questions, the children can look at the dogs, instead of the officers, and it helps them to open up."
The dogs are trained to handle a multitude of situations, she said. The dogs are trained to be non-aggressive, they are trained to maneuver around crutches, wheelchairs and canes. And they are also trained to be gentle with children, Creel said.
"We can guarantee that none of our dogs will bite," she said. "Now, they are animals and accidents can happen, but that's what they are. Just accidents. And what I mean by that is, the dogs have paws that can scratch and they can be a little rough."