Therapy programs helping kids exposed to violence and trauma in Franklin County

Mattis K. Nine and his new partner, Stark, are part of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office therapy dog program. (WSYX/WTTE)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) -- Columbus is inching closer to its most deadly year on record with 133 homicides so far. The record was set back in 1991 with 139 murders and children are getting caught in the crossfire, but there are programs out there helping even the youngest victims.

“Whenever people need us, we will go to them. They just need to call us,” said Franklin County Sheriff Deputy Darrah Metz. She’s the handler of Mattis K. Nine, their first therapy dog. This program is a first of its kind in the state.

Mattis and his new partner, Stark, are part of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office therapy dog program. They help traumatic victims of all sorts of situations including kids who have been plagued by violence in their neighborhoods.

“It has proven to help people reduce anxiety, reduce depression, reduce stress levels,” said Deputy Metz.

There have been seven homicides in Columbus since Sundy. Wednesday night in south Columbus, four people were shot including a 9-year-old girl. Police said she was attending a vigil for another homicide victim. She’s going to survive physically, but mentally, that could be another story.

“Essentially, what it does to children is tell them that their world is not safe: whether it’s their home, their school, their community,” said Jennifer Sherfield, a mental health advocate and forensic interviewer with The Center for Family Safety and Healing, part of Nationwide Children’s Hospital's

Sherfield talks with kids who are exposed to some sort of violence and the center has helped 1,300 children a year.

“We provide an opportunity for kids to talk through their experiences as it relates to family violence or violence in the community,” Sherfield stated.

If one-on-one counseling doesn’t help, there are always the furry guys: Mattis and Stark. They not only provide some comfort, but can help someone start the healing process.

“It does work. It does put people at ease. It helps calm children down,” said Deputy Metz.

The Franklin County therapy dogs make visits to nursing homes, hospitals, schools; anywhere they’re needed.

Mental health experts said for those families who cannot escape the violence in their community, they can create “safe environments” in “unsafe neighborhoods” by providing safe places in the home or looking for a community center where they have family friendly events.

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