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FCRJ welcomes new dogs, handlers

by Guinne Stropes Mail Intern

Full Circle Restorative Justice recently welcomed three new dogs and handlers to its Paws for Peace program.

The program started with two dogs and handlers and now has five dogs and handlers who have all sat in on victim-offender “circles.”

Full Circle facilitates the “circles,” where the victim of a crime, the offender of a crime and a community member sit together with a mediator, a dog and a handler to resolve problems.

Full Circle Restorative Justice staff and volunteers sit with dogs who are involved in the Paws for Peace program. From left are Ruth Phillips and dog Abby, Greg Phillips, Patty LaTaille and Kharmalita, Paula Barclay and Keet, Sue Armijo with Ringo and Molly Leach, Full Circle executive director. Keet and Ringo are two of the three new dogs Full Circle has recruited.
Photo by Guinne Stropes

“Therapy dogs remove the tension that is an element of conflict to a level that helps people feel safe to express how they’re feeling about what’s happened,” said Molly Leach, executive director.

Patty LaTaille, former executive director, said she thinks the tension in victim-offender circles could be “cut with a knife,” but having the therapy dogs there helps level the playing field.

“Having trained dogs adds a powerful element that possibly can’t be achieved by people, because dogs open us up and calm us down,” Leach said.

The calming affect of dogs can be attributed to neuroscience. The presence of dogs releases dopamine, which makes people happy, Leach said.

“Everyone likes dogs, and having the dogs here helps people find common ground,” she said.

Before dogs and handlers can be part of the circles, the handler must take a two-day course of facilitation and etiquette, Leach said. All dogs must be certified therapy dogs, and they have to be trained to sit in a circle as well.

“All of our new dogs have already sat in on some circles,” Leach said. “It’s not a long process getting the dogs ready. It’s really a mentor program, where the new dog will meet an older dog who’s already done this and see how it’s done.”

Leach thanked Laura Pintane with Therapy Dogs of Chaffee County for all the support shown to Full Circle. She said anyone interested in supporting the Paws for Peace program should visit fullcirclerj.net and donate to the program or purchase a T-shirt.

“We’re in our holiday fundraising time, and I’d like for everyone to know you can donate at fullcirclerj.net – the donation button isn’t hidden anymore. We’re also selling our Paws for Peace T-shirts. All donations are tax-deductible,” she said.

She said the organization hosts community potlucks, which are open to anyone interested, and anyone interested should visit the online calendar for dates and times.

Because justice does not always mean punishment

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