Ottawa Police victim crisis dog earns his badge

Mike Arsalides, CTV Ottawa

His eyes are often the first ones victims of domestic violence see. Canine West is the newest recruit of the Ottawa Police Service.

Trained by National Service Dogs in the Kitchener-Waterloo area since he was seven weeks old, the 19-month old Golden Retriever-Lab mix helps families dealing with traumatic experiences; providing men, women and children support and comfort during police interviews and meetings.

Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal calls West a valuable tool providing “a soothing distraction while parents speak to police, and he will help those who have witnesses traumatic events re-tell their story.”

Donna Watson-Elliott is a victim crisis manager with Ottawa Police. She says West and dogs like him provide a calming influence that allows for police to create a calm environment for children and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

“There's a lot of research that shows, just his presence,  could actually decrease people's heartrate and anxiety and stress of a very stressful process and often a very frightening process for them.”

Deputy Chief Jaswal calls it “A huge opportunity for us to connect with individuals who are often very difficult to connect with.”

West’s handler and partner is Traci Bowen; crisis counsellor with Ottawa Police.

“He's an average dog...Absolutely. Just that you can really see the training difference when the vest comes on and he knows he's working right now.”

West is the center piece of Ottawa Police's canine assisted intervention program; an eight-year partnership with National Service Dogs. West has been on the job for two weeks and already assisted victims of domestic abuse.