Meet Surf! New facility dog comforts kids in crisis

November 11, 2019

Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton’s Family Growth Program in Red Bank, N.J., has gone to the dogs. Literally.

A yellow Labrador retriever named Surf began working there as a facility dog this summer, comforting children and adults who have experienced trauma or abuse and helping them to recover.

Canine Companions for Independence, the California-based nonprofit that gave Surf to Catholic Charities, trained him to be calm and non-reactive. The peaceful pup knows more than 40 commands that Melissa Boege, his handler and a Family Growth program supervisor, uses in games and activities during therapy.

“The response has been very positive,” Boege said. “We have gotten referrals from families who specify that they want their child to work with Surf. Surf’s skills not only help him to play games with the kids to teach coping skills and other strategies, but his calm demeanor and sweetness help the kids open up. I’ve had kids I’ve worked with for a long time talk very openly about topics that they had never brought up in therapy before, so much so that the kids sometimes even seem surprised at how much they talk when Surf is there to sit with them and comfort them. It’s very healing.”

In October, Boege and Surf started visiting Monmouth County schools to present “Safety Steps” abuse-prevention workshops to students in kindergarten through second grade.

“The students love interacting with Surf, especially shaking his paw and patting his head,” Boege said.

A 5-year-old girl told Boege: “I like when we take a walk with Surfie. He makes me feel happy.” And a 14-year-old girl said: “I like how he sits next to me. He’s calming. He just listens. He’s a good talking buddy. And I have a dog like him at home so it makes it feel homey.”

Staff at the Red Bank office also love having a furry coworker around.

“He brightens our office,” said Boege. “Our staff members love when Surf greets them in the mornings. We have a lot of fun with our buddy.”

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