In the arts, stories abound about the love and loyalty of dogs. Usually, such stories center on children – the most vulnerable and powerless among us. In these TV shows and films, caring and selfless animals rescue children from the clutches of snakes, wolves, bears and even human beings – who often behave more cruelly than any of these creatures. Dogs, deservedly, are the heroes of such tales.
“Alert and ready for my slightest word,
Rin Tin Tin I so often watch you stand;
Eager to serve me for that high reward –
A smile, or just a light touch of my hand…
A real unselfish love like yours, old pal,
Is something I shall never know again.”
—WWI Corporal Lee Duncan, owner of beloved Rin Tin Tin—
Canine heroes do exist in real life. For many, especially children, the world is a dangerous, painful place. But the Weiss Child Advocacy Center provides care and assistance to victimized children. It also is home to a new hero; a black, lustrous dog; a gentle giant; Flint’s four-legged champion of children – Deputy Daphne. Daphne is a one-year-old black Labrador and Golden Retriever mix who joined the Weiss Child Advocacy Center in June 2017.
This center on East Street in Flint aids children who have been sexually abused, physically abused, neglected or witnesses to violence. Every year, Genesee County reports over 2,000 incidences of child abuse. In 2013, Michigan reported over 33,000 confirmed cases of child abuse. According to the Child Welfare League of America and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, the incidence of child abuse and neglect was 10 times higher than the incidence of childhood cancer. Behind every abstract number is a real suffering child. Thus, centers like Weiss are crucial to provide child victims with a place of refuge, caring, empowerment and justice. Weiss uses many tools and strategies to aid these victims; one is comfort dogs.
Initially trained as a Leader Dog for the blind, Daphne was accepted into the Canine Advocacy Program, where she was further trained to become an advocate for children. Now, at the Weiss Center, when frightened, timid and trembling abused children enter, they are met by Daphne – a calm, caring presence. Daphne has been trained to lie quietly for an hour next to a child as she pours out her painful story and pets the dog for comfort and distraction. Daphne also can be playful – bounding between towering trees and through green grass in the yard behind the pastel blue, two-story converted home that is the Weiss Center.
“Daphne brings children a lot of joy,” says Gayle Hartwell, a forensic interviewer who works at Weiss with children to elicit their stories of abuse. “She brings a sparkle to the room.” One time in an interview, a “child lay on the floor and Daphne put her head on her stomach. She doesn’t ever do that at home! She knew what that child needed and rose to the occasion!”
Weiss executive director Claudnyse Holloman agrees: “Daphne is soft, loving and warm. She is the child’s advocate in the room.”
Yes, at Weiss, there are stuffed animals and coloring books and crayons, but it is a child’s relationship with Daphne that truly allows him to feel comforted, begin to relax, gain trust and even summon courage. Along with the children, Daphne attends support groups, medical exams, community events and forensic interviews. Daphne has even attended children in the courtroom as they testify before a judge.
Hartwell shares a story: “We had an eight-year-old girl who was afraid of men. She didn’t want to talk to the judge or the prosecuting attorney, so she asked the victim’s advocate for Daphne. When the little girl saw her, she was so excited.” As the third grader sat in the witness box in a courtroom composed of spectators, law enforcement, legal officers, the judge and the perpetrator, Daphne lay close by. It was only then that the little girl turned to Daphne and began to recount her abuse. Hartwell says, “That way, she didn’t have to look out on a room full of strangers.”
Daphne is adored by not only the children; Hartwell laughingly reveals, “She is my boss’s favorite employee.”
“Daphne is soft, loving and warm. She is the child’s advocate in the room.” —Claudnyse Holloman
“Daphne is for the entire staff as well as the people we work with,” Holloman continues. “She’s the favorite of law enforcement, Child Protective Services and the Prosecutor’s Office.”
Hartwell also observes that “Daphne changes the dynamic. She just makes it easier to do our job.” The dog has been so well received and respected by many in the community that she was deputized by Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell and has her own badge.
Like any dog, Daphne has many needs – food, treats, leashes and toys – so people interested in supporting Daphne and her mission should visit the Weiss Child Advocacy Center at 515 East St. in Flint or call 810-238-3333. They can learn more by visiting weissadvocacycenter.org and the Weiss Child Advocacy Center on Facebook: #deputydaphne.
Nelson Mandela claimed that “our children are our greatest treasure. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.” He also said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Some in our society seem to have no soul when it comes to children. Yet, those who champion children – Daphne and the staff at the Weiss Child Advocacy Center – reveal the best of both human and animal.
Note: Children in photos are models and are not affiliated with Weiss Advocacy Center.