Therapy-dogs-in-training Jefferson [left] and Oliver [right] take a quick break during an all-staff meeting in October. The two dogs must undergo a year of training to be certified as therapy dogs. Submitted photo

FARMINGTON — Safe Voices in Farmington is now offering therapy dogs as part of their services to survivors of domestic abuse and violence that are involved with the program. 

According to Katrina White, sex trafficking and exploitation outreach coordinator for Safe Voices, advocates working with survivors can identify and offer the option of having a therapy dog present to comfort them while the advocates work on getting the services their clients need.

“They’re [the advocates] working with survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and sexual exploitation,” White said. “And so a lot of the work that’s happening here, there’s a lot of trauma and there’s a lot of moments of crisis that we see people and we’re seeing them at some of the most difficult moments in their lives.

“They’re here to get services, but then they’re having to tell that story to essentially a stranger, oftentimes. It might be the first time they’ve met an advocate here. And that can be a really high stress.”

Therapy dogs, according to Alliance of Therapy Dog’s website are trained to provide comfort and affection to people other than their handlers or owners. That could mean visiting a variety of places where people need love and affection, such as hospitals, schools, hospices, nursing homes, disaster areas, and more.

The two dogs currently in the program are Oliver and Jefferson, both golden retrievers. According to Grace Kendall, director of development and engagement, any dog breed can be suited to therapy work if the individual dog’s temperament is appropriate.


Oliver, nicknamed Ollie, belongs to White, with Jefferson belonging to Alyssa Coyne, program manager for community engagement. Both dogs are currently training at Mission Working Dogs, a training organization in Oxford County.

Both dogs must undergo a yearlong training program to be certified as therapy dogs, with Ollie beginning his training in September 2022 and Jefferson in November 2022.

The service was the brainchild of White, who put the idea into motion in November 2021. “I really was thinking about this for a while, just about how the use of dogs is so amazing,” she said. “I had really gotten passionate about following some courthouse assistance dogs that are across the country, and that really gave me a thought. ‘Well, why can’t we do this here? What would this look like if we had a therapy dog at Safe Voices, and the work that that dog could do to provide all kinds of emotional support for survivors?’”

Oliver was born in June 2022, and he is already helping relieve the stress of survivors entering Safe Voices as well as the advocates themselves.

“I think one thing that we maybe didn’t foresee, or certainly I didn’t, is the effects that Oliver and Jefferson can also have on staff,” Kendall stated. “The work that we do, there’s a lot of trauma that survivors are going through.

“It’s almost like secondary trauma, where if you’re an advocate working with survivors all day, every day, that’s a high stress job. We’ve seen a lot of advocates come out of their office after a tough call, and just say, ‘Yeah, I need some Ollie time’ and just take a few minutes on the floor with one of the dogs before they go back for another call.


“That’s an added bonus we didn’t necessarily expect, but it’s been really, really impactful,” she added.

Right now, there are currently only two dogs involved with the program, with both dogs tied to the program though employees of the program. However, Kendall stated that she was open to having volunteers outside the organization enter the program with their animals.

“I would be absolutely thrilled to talk with someone if they had a dog that was therapy certified, and they wanted to find ways to help out,” she said. “I would love to speak with that person.”

For more information about the program, or Safe Voices in general, please contact them at [207] 778-6107 or their website at

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