Meet Goldie, the therapy dog bringing joy in dark places

Goldie joined the team at CASA House in January 2022, and for the staff, she provides support simply by being in the room.
28 April 2022 | Mental health

Goldie is a five-year-old golden retriever offering emotional support to victim/survivors of sexual assault and the staff who work with them at the Women’s Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA House).

Something as simple as a nudge from Goldie can be enough to put people at ease.

With her big smile and bubbly personality, there’s something incredibly disarming about a dog like Goldie, says CASA House counsellor and advocate Lejla Arnautovic.

Building trust and connection

Goldie is a certified therapy dog. Every Thursday, she visits CASA House to provide comfort and support to victim/survivors of sexual assault who access services at the centre, including crisis care, counselling and advocacy, and support groups.

Therapy dogs such as Goldie help to bring some normality to a situation where a victim/survivor is sharing their story.

“Goldie brings a lot of joy and that is amazing considering the themes that often come up in my work are quite heavy,” Lejla says. “Therapy dogs help to establish trust and provide a component of touch that is very important and difficult to otherwise achieve.”

“Goldie often lies on people’s feet in the sessions and this has been found to be very grounding,” Lejla adds.

People accessing support from CASA House don’t have to visit in person to benefit from Goldie’s presence. She pops her head in to say hello during telehealth counselling sessions.

“She provides someone to relate to who is seen as non-judgemental and non-threatening,” Lejla says.

“She reminds me and our service users that there is always joy in life, even in the darkest places.”

Certified therapy dog Goldie with her handler Lejla Arnautovic at CASA House.
Certified therapy dog Goldie with her handler Lejla Arnautovic at CASA House.

A certified good dog

To become a certified therapy dog Goldie undertook four years of training and gained on-the-ground experience working in a women’s prison.

Lejla says Goldie gets as much out of her role – if not more – than the people she supports. And unlike service dogs such as guide dogs, patting is encouraged.

“Goldie makes a point of asking for attention, by nudging people’s hands or making lots of eye contact,” Lejla says. “She will do anything for a pat and makes eye contact that seems to say, ‘I love you so much, you are the best person in the world.’”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Women’s provides a 24/7 service to victim/survivors of past and recent sexual assault including crisis care, counselling, advocacy and support through CASA House (9am-5pm) and the Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL) (5pm-9am).

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Victorian Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL)
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