CASA of Cameron and Willacy counties on Wednesday introduced its newest member of the team.
Forest VIII, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever crossbred with a Golden retriever, is a therapy dog and will be used to assist workers with children in child abuse cases.
“Forest’s goals at CASA are to serve children who have experienced or witnessed trauma by providing them with comfort and unconditional love,” said Lacey Ambriz, a licensed handler and communications director for CASA.
CASA’s main goal is to provide support for children victims of abuse through volunteers called Court Appointed Special Advocates in life and in the courtroom, so judges may make informed decisions on what is in their best interest, the agency stated in a media release.
CASA of Cameron and Willacy counties acquired Forest through Canine Companions, a non-profit organization that provides service dogs to people in need including adults, children, veterans with disabilities and facility dogs.
Ambriz said studies show that having animals around children helps not only with stressful situations but reduces anxiety as well.
“Our next step with Forest will be an exciting one,” Ambriz said. “We will be able to get to see Forest interacting with children and the impact he will have on them.”
Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said CASA plays an invaluable role with the DA’s Office helping out in child abuse cases.
“Child abuse is like domestic violence on steroids, it is a very, very bad” problem here and in others parts of the country. “It seems like no sooner than Brandy (Bailey) and I discuss a case that is horrific, egregious, it’s terrible because of what it involves and here they come with a case that is even worse than that. It’s very disheartening…it makes one mad to read those cases because of the victims involved which are children.”
Forest will be allowed to get close to the children and will be able to comfort them as they tell their stories to the CASA workers.
Dora Martinez, CASA’s executive director, said Forest will not only serve CASA, but will also assist with the DA’s office in both Cameron and Willacy counties, advocacy centers and any agency that helps children.
“Forest will eventually be able to attend court hearings once we resume to fully in person” hearings, Martinez said.
CASA is the first agency in the region to have a facility dog.
“What we are most excited about is the impact that Forest is going to make. I have personally witnessed Forest interact with children and youth and how Forest responds, it’s heartwarming to see that, Martinez said.