Justice Heals: connecting survivors and shelter dogs

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It’s not every day that you see a collaboration between the College of Veterinary Medicine and the Center for Survivors, but that’s what one program is helping bring together.

The program is called Justice Heals and it’s providing sexual assault survivors support while giving shelter dogs a second chance at life.

“[It’s] a journey that we would work with the survivors and dogs from start to their finishes or their destination,” said veterinary behaviorist Dr. Marie Hopfensperger, who helped found Justice Heals.

Justice Heals is broken down into four steps starting with an initial meeting between the survivor and the dog evolving into gradual meetings like taking the dog for a walk. The final step is the potential to adopt the dog.

“Right now we’re partnering with Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter to screen dogs as we get rolling,” said Dr. Hopfensperger. “There’s temperament testing as well as some additional testing protocols to determine good fit.”

The program is named after Justice, a black lab who was a career change dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind now working at the Center for Survivors.

“Justice had a significant amount of anxiety,” said Dr. Hopfensperger. “It became very obvious that, working with a very imperfect therapy dog, if you will, was incredibly powerful for the survivors with whom she works.”

This program isn’t just to help shelter dogs and survivors of sexual assault, it’s also an opportunity to get the community involved.

“Our hope is that we can connect with people who want to be proud to be Spartans again,” said Dr. Hopfensberger. “They get to go really actively participate in individual healing and community and campus healing.”

While the program is still in its early stages, Dr. Hopfensperger has high hopes it will succeed.

“Honestly if we make a difference for one survivor and one dog, I would feel proud of our endeavors,” said Dr. Hopfensperger.