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Therapy dogs helping victims in Erie County's domestic violence crisis

Dogs visit the Family Justice Center through the SPCA Serving Erie County's Paws for Love program

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Dogs

At 105 pounds of fluff, Bailey Bear the Bernese mountain dog has a lot of love to give. 

"The minute I pull out her bandanna, she knows she's going to work, and I'll say okay Bailey, let's go to work, and she gets so excited," said her owner, Rosemary Applby. 

Bailey and Rosemary Appleby are volunteers with the Paws for Love program at the SPCA Serving Erie County.  They go to the airport once a week, as well as schools throughout the county. 

In December, they added the Family Justice Center in downtown Buffalo to the rotation. The organization provides resources to victims of domestic violence.   

"It's very, very fulfilling coming here. I feel like this is what we were meant to do," Appleby told 2 On Your Side.  

Fellow volunteer Kathy Brown and her dog, Hurley, feel the same way. 

"I think that it's his purpose, to bring that calm to anyone he interacts with," Brown said. 

Erie County's Domestic Violence Crisis

CEO Mary Murphy says that the Family Justice Center has been busier than ever lately. At such a critical time, the therapy dogs are making a difference in the way the staff here works with their clients, to help them through their trauma and develop action plans. 

"[Over the] Last year and a half there's been at least fifteen domestic violence murders. This is a public health crisis," Murphy said. "When they're calm, the trauma is a little more under control. And they can proceed to figure out their journey forward." 

Survivor Impact

Jennifer Taylor is the survivor of domestic violence attack at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. 

"I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't eating, my hair was falling out," she said of the time following her attack, going through the police and court system.  

She did not want to show her face on camera, but she wanted to share how the comfort of a dog has helped her along her journey. She even became a "dog person" for the first time in her life. 

"Knowing what the dogs provide the clients with here, I really wanted to experience that peace and that comfort," Taylor told 2 On Your Side. "The joy, the safety. I wanted that in my own home. So when I got my dog it was the very first time I ever had an animal, and it just changed absolutely everything for me."

Ruby's Room

When therapy dogs visit the Family Justice Center, they enter and exit through a private entrance to Ruby's Room. The room is dedicated to Ruby Stiglmeier, of Orchard Park, who died at the hands of her ex-boyfriend in 2016.

Dogs have to go through special training to become domestic violence therapy dogs, but Murphy says the Family Justice Center is always in need of more. 

To learn more about how to get involved in the Paws for Love program at the SPCA Serving Erie County, click here

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