A news story at the end of November revealed that Greenville emergency rooms saw seven sexual assault victims in a 24-hour period—the highest number for a single day that Shauna Galloway-Williams could remember. Galloway-Williams is the executive director of the Julie Valentine Center, a non-profit organization that provides free, confidential services to victims of sexual assault and child abuse.
Nancy Henderson, MD, a forensic pediatrician who is part of GHS Children’s Hospital’s Children’s Advocacy Medical Program (CHAMP), also works at the Julie Valentine Center. She and the program’s other physicians are tasked with conducting the forensic examination on young victims of sexual assault who come through the Julie Valentine Center. It’s a challenging scenario, having to approach these young, traumatized patients and earn their cooperation in examining various parts of their bodies.
Fortunately, though, Dr. Henderson has a furry co-worker who makes this job much easier, both for doctor and patient. Kenzie is a golden lab mix who has been a member of Children’s Hospital’s Canine F.E.T.C.H. (Friends Encouraging Therapeutic Coping and Healing) Unit for two years now.
One of Kenzie’s main responsibilities is offering comfort to patients at the Julie Valentine Center. Sometimes that’s holding out her paw to “hold hands” with a teenage victim or a distraught parent. Other times, it’s jumping up onto the exam table to snuggle with a young victim during the exam. Whatever it is, it often makes a difference in the patient’s demeanor that’s as clear as night and day.
Dr. Henderson shared an example of a recent patient who started out the visit curled up in her caregiver’s lap, withdrawn and avoiding eye contact. When Dr. Henderson started playing with Kenzie, though, things began to change. When she held up one of Kenzie’s toys—a plush mug of hot chocolate with a straw sticking out—to Kenzie’s mouth as if the pup was drinking it, the little patient began to laugh.
As the exam went on, Dr. Henderson would examine Kenzie first—whether ears, arms or legs—and the patient would smile and then offer her own body part to be examined, too. Eventually, the patient even became verbal.
“It was a night-and-day difference in, maybe, 10 minutes at most,” Dr. Henderson said. “I don’t think we would have been able to make any headway in the exam without Kenzie here, and with her here, it just happened by itself.”
Kenzie’s presence helps the patients relax, said Kenzie’s handler, Laurel Wanner.
“They’ll reach back and pet her and scratch her, and they relax,” she said.
Dr. Henderson said the child therapist at the Julie Valentine Center has occasionally borrowed Kenzie to help the children she’s seeing to separate from their caregivers and become more engaged in therapy.
“Kenzie doesn’t ask any questions, she doesn’t judge, she’s just a really good listener,” Dr. Henderson said.
Even the staff at the center—who have to find their own ways of coping with the tragedy they see day in and day out—will sometimes come and just sit with Kenzie and pet her.
Dr. Henderson said about 250 children and adolescents a year are seen at the Julie Valentine Center each year—most for sexual assault—and she and the other CHAMP doctors see about 150 each year at the program’s Spartanburg location. Of those, she said, about 60 percent are children 10 and under.
Those are sobering statistics, but it’s comforting to be able to provide at least a small joy to patients who are in the midst of such a horrific experience.
“They light up, they smile, they breathe,” Wanner said. “It’s just incredible to be part of that.”
Follow the Canine F.E.T.C.H. Unit on Instagram to see photos of Kenzie and her co-canines at work.