Edmonton

Good girl: After helping hundreds of children, Fossey the service dog retires

After years of helping traumatized children deal with abuse, the time has come for the Zebra Child Protection Centre service dog to hang up her collar.

The service dog is ready to hang up her collar and go home to enjoy her golden years

After nearly a decade of service, Fossey the service dog is ready to hang up her collar. (Zebra Child Protection Centre/Facebook)

What kind of cake do you buy for a dog's retirement party?

The Zebra Child Protection Centre had to answer that question recently, when it came time for Fossey the service dog to hang up her collar after years of helping traumatized children deal with abuse.

For the past four years, the yellow Labrador has helped hundreds of children deal with the trauma of abuse.  

At the age of nine, Fossey is now preparing to retire to enjoy her golden years.

"She's been giving us some signs," Becci Watson, director of child support services at the Zebra Centre, said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"She's still very well behaved. But sometimes when she's in the room with a child or family, she'll inch her way to the door. And she never used to do that.

"Or she'll forget, kind of roll over on her back, and start snoring."

'The comfort that she can provide'

At the Zebra Centre, city police and RCMP officers work with other agencies that respond to allegations of child abuse.

With her tail wagging, Fossey greets each child who arrives, and comforts them during the ensuing forensic interviews and even during court appearances.

In March 2015, Fossey was the first dog allowed inside an Edmonton courtroom. In her first appearance, she sat calmly in the witness box as a teenage girl testified against her alleged abuser.

The dog has since become a fixture at the courthouse.

"We do have a volunteer that sits on the stand with the child, but they are not allowed to provide any physical comfort or speak to the child during testimony," said Watson.

"So if the child needs to lean over and hug that dog, or cry into that fur, that is the comfort that she can provide that no one else can provide in that instance."

'It's a hard thing to measure'

Fossey has always been able to make quick connections with children, said Watson. Children have sometimes waited for investigators to leave the room, then told their stories to Fossey.

Those moments, caught on camera, are invaluable to investigators and show the trusting relationships Fossey can forge.  

"It's a hard thing to measure, but it's the things we see day to day," Watson said. "Just the other day, we had a little one come into the centre. She didn't want to look at us, she was not saying a word … and then about an hour later she was trotting around laughing, holding Fossey's leash. It's those interactions that we see make the difference."

Wren, left, and Fossey, right, provide support to children dealing with the trauma of abuse. (CBC)
 Fossey's duties will not be abandoned. Two other service dogs on staff, Fletcher and Wren, will help ensure children at the centre feel protected.

The staff wants to fill Fossey's post but needs to fundraise first, said Watson. Service dogs at the centre need to be highly trained and cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

Fossey is being adopted by her handler's family. After her last day on the job, she will go home for some well-deserved rest.

The dog got a send-off fitting for such a dedicated employee.

"She did get to have a retirement party," said Watson. "There were five other dogs in attendance and there was a beef and garlic cake with mashed potato icing, and they seemed to really enjoy it."
 

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

With files from Ken Dawson