Seven-year-old Tripp Rozell, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker and two-year-old Sydney McGavock welcome ICW’s new therapy dog Unali to the program.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare added a new four-legged, furry member to their team on Tuesday.
Unali, a Golden Retriever puppy, flew by airplane from Ohio this week and will serve as a certified animal-assisted therapy dog, bringing comfort to Cherokee children who are placed in the tribe’s custody, attend court proceedings or move into new foster homes.
“Often when children are placed into custody, they are leaving their home and belongings and going with complete strangers and to have a dog there to greet and love on them eases their anxiety and lowers stress levels,” said Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare Executive Director Nikki Baker Limore.
Unali, the word for friend in Cherokee, was donated by PuppySpot and will spend the next 22 weeks training.
“Before we fully introduce Unali, she will have a series of internships where we take her around to various head start facilities and nursing homes so that she can get used to new environments. It’s really important for her because she will be around children every day,” said Indian Child Welfare Specialist Connie Webb, her handler.
The tribe introduced the puppy valued at more than $2,400 on Tuesday to several doting children at their Muskogee Avenue ICW office, which serves 1500 children during any given month.
Unali is Cherokee Nation ICW’s first therapy dog, but other departments, such as behavioral health have worked with therapy animals for some time.
Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health has a therapy dog named Cotton, a Golden Doodle, who often sits in group therapy sessions to calm participants.
“Because of the narratives that I can apply to patient lives through the dog, I see way more ‘Aha’ moments,” said James Bywater, supervisor of behavioral health clinical services and Cotton’s handler. “The connections that I can make with my patients through Cotton are really unbelievable.”
Therapy animals receive hours of training and multiple certifications before they are released into their work environment. Cotton is a certified American Kennel Club Good Dog Citizen and Unali will soon begin therapy and emotional support training.
Additional Cherokee Nation departments, including the Jack Brown Center, are also exploring animal partnership programs.
Cherokee Nation News Release
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