When RCMP Corporal Brett Turner moved to town in December, Castlegar gained not just another Mounty, but a therapy dog as well. Turner and his wife Eve have trained their Alaskan Malamute to be a source of calmness and comfort in a variety of challenging situations.
Phoenix is four years old, weighs in at 120 lbs. and could definitely be described as a gentle giant. Shortly after the Turners got Phoenix they realized that his temperament and disposition would be well suited to work as a therapy dog. They started taking him to seniors homes and Alzheimer’s wings in Ottawa where they were stationed at the time. “The people there could reminisce about the pets they used to have, pet the dog and give him treats. He would just nuzzle up to them, and it kind of just grew from there,” explained Brett.
Once Phoenix was two years old, he was eligible to enter formal training to become an Ottawa therapy dog. The eight week training course worked on obedience training and monitoring the dog’s reactions to a wide range of stimuli ranging from exposure to wheelchairs, people with IV’s, metal bowls crashing into walls — basically anything he might encounter in a situation he might visit.
Phoenix did so well, he quickly moved on to training for the READ (Reading Educational Assistance Program) program which works with children struggling with reading and communication issues. The final testing for this program involved an auditorium filled with noisy, active children.
Phoenix will be used in a number of different ways in Castlegar, primarily working through the RCMP Victims Assistance Program. One use will be assisting during police interviews. Brett shared an example, “If we have to interview a child who has been a victim of abuse or who has seen something violent, it is very hard and intimidating for them to sit in a room with adults that are asking them difficult questions,” he explained. “You can bring the dog in, the dog lowers the anxiety of the victim, a kind of bonding takes place and they can almost answer the questions to the animal.”
Eve Turner is Phoenix’s primary handler and she has already been active in local elementary schools visiting with children with anxiety issues and children on the autism spectrum, among others, both individually and in groups. During visits children can touch the dog, help lead him on his leash and talk to him as they feel comfortable.
Phoenix has also been escorting children on tours of the Castlegar RCMP detachment. “They get to see Phoenix as the resident trauma dog,” said Eve. Already being familiar with Phoenix will add a layer of comfort in the unfortunate situation that any of these children experience a trauma.
Plans are being made for Phoenix to work in the witness area of local courthouses. “Whoever is in there as a witness, he can keep them calm or distract them — give them something to focus on,” explained Eve.
“Our colleagues are just as excited as we are to get Phoenix working out in the community,” said Christine Van Dyke, program manager for Castlegar’s RCMP Victim Assistance Program. “Victim Services provides leadership and works collaboratively to enhance services to victims of crime and trauma, Phoenix adds to our ability to do our job.”