(MyFoxBoston.com) – During International Assistance Dog Week, it is only fitting to feature a young Dracut boy, who witnessed a horrific crime, turning tragedy into something that can benefit other crime victims.
Gavin Plouffe seems like a typical 9-year-old boy. He likes to play video games and is glued to his iPod; however, Gavin has already lived through too much pain for any age.
Gavin was just 3 years old when he woke up to find his father, Jeffrey McGee, strangling and stabbing his mother, Christine, to death inside their Chelmsford home in 2007.
Gavin was forced to relive the tragedy when he took the stand in his father's murder trial in 2010.
"I was very stressed. I was angry," Gavin told FOX 25.
Gavin believes Wena, a specially trained dog, could have made a difference in the courtroom. "Wena" is an assistance dog, the only one of its kind in Massachusetts assisting crime victims in courtrooms in the state.
Gavin raised money to bring Wena to Massachusetts. Wena came to Massachusetts in 2011, the year after Gavin's father was convicted of his mother's murder. The dog was at Gavin's side in court when his grandmother adopted him.
Gavin says having Wena by his side calmed him down and made him feel comfortable.
"Just as a parent, it's heartbreaking that he first of all had to live through that. But second of all, had to sit up there in a room full of people he really didn't know and talk about it again," Laurie Myers, a victim's advocate, said.
Myers, who is also is Wena's handler, said she decided to go through training at Canine Companions for Independence after hearing from the mother of a 6-year-old victim of a sex crime who was too afraid to testify against her perpetrator and the charges were dropped.
Myers believes animals like Wena can make all the difference when a child is testifying in a courtroom.
"It's hard to explain, but it's almost like a type of connection that even humans don't understand," Myers said.
Puppy raisers teach dogs like Wena basic commands and socialization skills for their first year and a half. Then they undergo six months of advanced training and learn more than 50 commands.
After the marathon bombings, Wena visited survivors at Boston hospitals. And since then, Canine Companions for Independence has been hearing from some of those survivors who are now hoping to get an assistance dog of their own.
For more information on Canine Companions for Independence, visit www.cci.org.