CASA facility dog Matilda helping abused children
Matilda knows what abused children need. So when they’re in court to
testify against their abusers in the toughest cases, this yellow
lab-golden retriever mix is there when they need her most.
Matilda brings calm to kids who’ve experienced immense trauma in their
lives. That, according to her handler Liz Noffsinger, is “her biggest gift.”
Family Court judges, bailiffs and biological parents who may lose a
child are all calmed by Matilda, says Melynda Milburn Jamison, CASA of
Lexington’s executive director.
Its volunteer court appointed special advocates and facility dog Matilda
serves abused and neglected children in Fayette, Bourbon, Scott and
Woodford counties. Last year alone, Jamison says they served 583
children in those communities.
Kids in Kentucky are required to testify against the person accused of
abusing them, but everyone in court hears the horrific cases. Matilda,
Noffsinger says, “brings calm to everybody – not just the kids.”
She remembers Family Court Judge Lisa Hart Morgan taking a recess and
getting down on the floor with Matilda and then saying, “I just needed
that so much today.”
A trained family therapist and CASA volunteer manager, Noffsinger says,
“I’ve always believed really strongly in animal therapy; the calming
affects that animals bring to children who’ve experienced trauma.”
Matilda loves affection, so when children need her she’ll lay her head
on their laps if that’s what they want.
“The kids we serve,” says Jamison, “a lot of times have been let down or
hurt by people. Whereas that’s not the case with animals.” So a child
will whisper something in Matilda’s ear that they wouldn’t say to an
adult, she adds.
Matilda, a trained service dog, that serves CASA of Lexington as a
facility dog, can follow over 40 commands, including a fist (she uses
her nose) bump with children.
When Matilda’s wearing her vest, she knows she’s working (she has a
20-hour work week). When her vest comes off, she’s not working and can
be a regular dog at home with Noffsinger and her family.
Noffsinger completed her training at Canine Companions for Independence
so she could serve as Matilda’s handler. It’ll be three years in August
that they’ve been together serving kids.
CASA had to wait two-and-half years before being matched with Matilda,
according to Jamison. “As soon as I saw her face,” says Noffsinger, “I
thought, oh, my gosh, ‘This dog is perfect.’”
CASA of Lexington provides volunteer advocates for abused and neglected
kids in Fayette, Bourbon, Scott and Woodford counties, but Matilda also
travels to other counties to meet with children who’ve been placed in
foster homes or with relatives in other parts of the state, Jamison says.
Matilda is a finalist for an American Humane Hero Dog Award. If she
wins, she’ll be featured on the Hallmark Channel, according to Jamison.
People can vote until May 6 by visiting the casaoflexington.org homepage
and clicking on the Vote Now link.