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CASA facility dog Matilda helping abused children


MATILDA brings calm to kids who’ve experienced trauma in their lives. That, according to her handler Liz Noffsinger, is “her biggest gift.” Matilda, who will be 5 years old in July, is available to help abused children in Woodford, Bourbon, Scott and Fayette counties. (Photo by Bob Vlach)
MATILDA brings calm to kids who’ve experienced trauma in their lives. That, according to her handler Liz Noffsinger, is “her biggest gift.” Matilda, who will be 5 years old in July, is available to help abused children in Woodford, Bourbon, Scott and Fayette counties. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

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.

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