HARRISON – The Northern Michigan Alliance for Children, located at 127 N. Second St. in Harrison, has lost a longtime child advocate after a nearly 6-year career. That transition was marked with an open-air bit of fanfare in the form of a farewell gathering held July 18 at the Clare Public Safety Building.
Who was this special advocate? His name is Trigger, and he is the golden retriever Canine Advocate who served as a welcoming and calming friend to children and families during the forensic interview process and court proceedings. Trigger, who joined the Child Advocacy Center in late 2017, was a comfort to those who had to speak of their victimization in order to receive justice. He did that through his calming presence, acceptance of all petting and hugging, as well as his intuitive understanding of a child’s needed for reassuring physical contact.
Trigger was a calming figure in the NMAC office where, upon sensing stress levels were running high, he would simply stroll on over to a staff member and lay his head on their leg, conveying: “I’m here. It will be all right.”
The July 18 event was an opportunity for current and former staff members to reminisce and to inform the community about Trigger’s service. The original staff at the Child Advocacy Center has been completely turned over since Trigger first joined the team, resulting in his living in one home while eventually working with four different handlers. He will remain in the home of former NMAC Prevention Education Coordinator Rosalind Kindell, who now works with Community Mental Health. She explained that the complete turnover and changing of handlers had led to confusion and discomfort for the dog. That lack of person continuity, coupled with the break in service during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in Trigger being stressed out and losing his focus on/skills at his job – something he communicated on the office carpet.
Kindell said the job was wearing on Trigger, and that he would come home just really tired at the end of the day.
“You can see it on his face,” she said. “He’s gray and he’s lived a life. He’s 7 today; it’s his birthday and his retirement party.”
Kindell went on to describe her tenure at NMAC, noting that she had 1,000 students per school year in her Prevention Education program in Clare and Gladwin County schools, which added up to more than 5,000.
Desirea Woodworth, who was a child advocacy center intern when Kindell started there, has now returned and taken over Kindell’s Prevention Education and Outreach Coordinator position. Despite Kindell’s concerns about what would happen to her program, she was elated to see how effectively Woodworth took up the mantel.
“She swooped in, was there for a week and I saw posts going out, and I was like ‘You got it!” she said. “She got into schools right away – I was worried about that, because it took a year and a half for me to build the relationships with schools. She’s done great, just kind of jumped right in and is doing good things.”
Another original staffer attending was Katy Sherwood who had served for many years as an NMAC forensic interviewer. Not surprisingly, Sherwood was also greeted by a smiling snout and wagging tail – old friends are like that.
In addition to a whole passel of kids, another golden retriever was in attendance. His name is Joe and he brought along his owner Tom Evans, the county’s recently sworn-in chief assistant prosecuting attorney. Young Joe is an energetic and well-mannered fellow who obviously loves, loves, loves to play. The two dogs spent some time working out who would be the first to fetch, and eventually they both had their chance. Of course, Trigger being the older and wiser, didn’t hesitate to recline in the shade when enough was enough.
Terrah Johnson, current NMAC executive director, reiterated that the changeover in handlers had been a difficulty for Trigger. It was also not feasible for the center to take the dog away from caretaker Kindell and the children in her family – a truly divisional problem.
“I thought ‘I’m not taking the kids’ dog,’” she said, adding that replacing Trigger would need to be a collaborative decision. Johnson said she had told Evans he needs to be the handler, and that Joe needs to go through the program. Evans voiced concern that he couldn’t be with the dog all the time, which Johnson addressed by saying Trigger’s initial job had been to go to court with children, which might be feasible for Joe. The question then turned to how to arrange a daily custody schedule and progressed to Joe talking with the kids during the day while in the care of current Victim Advocate Andrea Mills.
Evans proudly pointed out that Joe has had some Petco training: Puppy 1 and Puppy 2, Adult 1 and Adult 2, was an American Kennel Club Gold S.T.A.R. [Socialization, Training, Activity and a Responsible owner] Puppy, and is also a Canine Good Citizen.
“I do want to get him trained as Urban Dog, just to keep me and him training,” Evans said.
So, Johnson affirmed the replacement of Trigger is desired, but it’s just a matter of getting all the elements working together collaboratively.
Johnson went on to describe the difference it makes in the office to have the dog there.
“It’s amazing what it adds having the dog there,” she said. “And sometimes when we don’t have clients and we’re still just processing it, he comes in and just lays his head on your lap. It just lightens that mood so much.”
Johnson also noted that Trigger had been showing signs [indoor toileting] that he was overstressed, and the company they work with said that was Trigger’s way of telling them he was done. She agreed that it was too bad Trigger’s tenure is up but that, having helped so many children, he is most deserving of retirement.
He is after all exactly what his staff listing on the NMAC MIKIDS.org website states: “Trigger – Goodest Boy.”
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