Step into the world of a therapy dog. They say a dog is man’s best friend, but in this case it’s a matter of numerous dogs being many kids’ best friends. Meet the trained therapy dogs and their owner-handlers who help kids at both Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Centers in Okaloosa and Walton Counties.
Jacqui Broadus, a Mental Health Therapist with ECCAC, and a Registered Pet Partners Therapist at the center, took the lead in pet therapy programs beginning in 2010. That’s when she brought Riley, an adorable Maltese and Registered Pet Partner, to ECCAC in Niceville to work with the kids.
Flash forward to 2018. From rescue dogs to championship AKC competition dogs, there are now nine trained therapy dogs, along with their owners, who make regular volunteer visits each week to kids at both the Niceville center, and the Pierce Family Children’s Advocacy Center in DeFuniak Springs.
The therapy dogs and their owners have completed various training programs to ensure a positive experience with the kids receiving services at both centers. Along with many attaining AKC Good Citizenship Training, most are also members of People and Animals Lending Support (PALS), and are registered owner-pet teams with Intermountain Therapy Animals (ITA) and the Therapy Patient Connections (TPC) local affiliate ITA group. And the therapy dogs have a required $2 million liability insurance policy.
“The therapy dogs and their owners just absolutely warm my heart,” says ECCAC CEO Julie Hurst-Porterfield. “When Jacqui Broadus brought Riley into the lives of ECCAC children, little did she know she would help create a legacy and new world of hope for children. On behalf of ECCAC, we thank the handler-owners and their dogs for their invaluable work and time spent with the kids. And, amazingly, it is all a volunteer effort by these dedicated people and their dogs.”
ECCAC’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect, protect children in Okaloosa and Walton Counties and restore the lives and futures of these impacted children and their families. Their child-friendly centers house a multidisciplinary team of child protection personnel, prosecutors, law enforcement, DCF, therapists, ECCAC staff and volunteers.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization has provided services at no cost to over 11,000 children in the past 17 years. They raise 60 percent of their annual $1.3 million budget for the two centers through special events, private donations and community-sponsored fundraisers. The remainder is generated through grant requests and governmental funding.
For further information, visit eccac.org. If abuse is suspected, call the anonymous Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.