Four-legged therapist offers unconditional support at the SAFV Centre

January 21, 2024 BY

The SAFV Centre's newest staff member, Baila the Labrador, has already had a profound impact on the organisation's clients and staff. Photo: SUPPLIED

A THERAPY dog has joined the team at the Sexual Assault and Family Violence (SAFV) Centre as a permanent staff member, offering support to the organisation’s clients and enhancing staff well-being.

The move follows the completion of a successful pilot program that saw 100 per cent of the Centre’s clients provide feedback that having Baila the Labrador attend sessions was either helpful or very helpful.

SAFV Centre acting chief executive officer Carmel Thomas said Baila’s introduction compliments the effectiveness of organisation’s existing practices.

“The SAFV Centre remains committed to providing therapeutic services that are client-centred, trauma-informed and innovative.

“As a response organisation, we want clients to feel comfortable, safe and supported during appointments.

“She provides a point of conversation and helps people to engage in a chat, offers support and friendship to people who may feel isolated or uncomfortable in social situations, creates a distraction from any negative feelings and reduces stress or anxiety.”

During counselling sessions, Baila will usually sit near the client and request pats before settling in for a nap. Photo: SUPPLIED


Baila, now 2, joined the organisation from Guide Dogs Victoria and has been integrated into all of the SAFV Centre’s services.

On a typical counselling day, she attends up to four appointments with clients, including client sessions with Child Protection and the Sexual Offences and Child-abuse Investigation Team.

Baila has already had a profound effect, offering visitors to the Centre a distraction from challenging situations, unconditional friendship and support.

“Baila is also attentive and in tune with client’s emotions,” Thomas said.

“A client became teary in a session and Baila went up to this client and put her head on the client’s lap.

“The client gave Baila a pat and began to regulate herself.”

Outside of appointments, Baila spends time roaming around the office and going for walks. Photo: SUPPLIED


One of the centre’s clients has already attended more than 10 sessions with Baila in the room.

“Baila has helped clients feel more comfortable in counselling sessions and eases some of the nerves,” Thomas said.

“Having Baila in the room is a conversation starter and provides some humour.

“There have been times where Baila will have a nap in the room and will snore. This has allowed clients and counsellors to have a laugh.

“This not only calms nerves for the clients, but also helps facilitate therapeutic rapport between clients and counsellors.”

Baila enjoys frequent naps, a daily 4pm finish time and a comfortable home with her guardian.

Her presence has also made a difference to the centre’s other employees.

“Staff have overwhelmingly enjoyed having Baila around the office,” Thomas said.

“She puts a smile on their face, supports staff well-being and also helps when having a particularly tough day.”

If you or someone you know needs family or domestic violence support, head to safvcentre.org.au or phone their 24/7 family violence hotline on 1800 015 188 or their sexual assault crisis hotline on 1800 806 292. If you are in immediate danger, phone the police on 000.