New therapy dog to help victims, witnesses to crime in Fredericton

The Fredericton Police Force will soon welcome a new furry four-legged member to its victim witness section.

City council approved the use of a fully-trained and certified therapy dog during Monday night's regular meeting.

The five-year-old Labrador Retriever named Bella is owned by Tom Barton – an auxiliary member with the force – and his wife Letha.

"It was kind of a marriage made in heaven," police Chief Leanne Fitch told reporters after the meeting. "This particular auxiliary officer is very, very committed to the program, has really taken hold of the police culture, and reaches out to help in any way possible."

As part of the new program, Fitch said Bella will work with both victims and witnesses to crime, in particular children, who often feel vulnerable or frightened.

"If they're traumatized by an event, just having the dog in the room, just sitting beside them, they can pat the dog and talk to the dog a little bit," said Fitch. "It just really helps to lessen anxiety."

"We know that there's a healing component with animals and people, so we're really looking forward to it being a successful program."

Fitch said the therapy dog program has been successful in other jurisdictions across Canada, although she was unsure whether other New Brunswick police forces have their own therapy dog.

The program will be rolled out in the coming weeks, but Fitch said it's too early to say how often the force will use Bella's skills.

"It all depends on the situation, it's hard to project what that need will be based on the events that happen and the people that we come into contact with."

Fitch said both Bella and her handler are taking part in the program on a volunteer basis, so there's no cost to the city.