May 2013 Bar Bulletin
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May 2013 Bar Bulletin

A Paws-itive Way To Heal Child Abuse

By Lisa DuFour and Sharon Friedrich


Lucy has soulful, golden brown eyes and a look that melts your heart. She is a black, Labrador-retriever mix and a "rescue dog."

Lucy was adopted from a no-kill shelter that received her from a local pound where she had been scheduled to be euthanized. In the beginning, she was emaciated and her fur was rough and dull looking. She looked so awful at this time in her life that when she was taken on walks there were a lot of strange looks from other dog owners.

But Lucy filled in fairly quickly and her fur soon became soft and shiny. However, it did not take long to discover that the physical neglect she was subjected to was just the tip of the iceberg of the poor treatment she received in her prior life.

A sudden movement of a hand or gesture with an object in hand caused Lucy to cringe or hide. She was shy around strangers. If she was given a toy or a ball, she just walked away and left it. Any loud noise sent her running to hide in a corner. And strangest of all, the sight of a camera terrified her. Lucy's behavior, combined with her initial sad physical condition, indicated that she had come from a very abusive home.

Over the years, Lucy has gotten over some of her shyness and she is far more social and outgoing than when she was first adopted. But she does not have the happy-go-lucky personality that Labs are known for. She has learned how to play, which was a big step, and now enjoys games of tug-of-war with her Jack Russell Terrier cohort. A wave of a hand no longer causes her anxiety. But she remains terrified of loud noises and her fear of cameras has not abated.

The neglect and abuse that Lucy was exposed to created ongoing problems for Lucy, and she is just a dog. Consider then, the ongoing effects that neglect and abuse have on children, with their complex, evolving and impressionable minds. Studies have shown that child abuse not only has a lasting effect on the abused individuals, but also has a profound effect on our entire society.1

As family law practitioners, our focus in cases involving parenting plans is mainly on the residential schedule, the litigation process and the resulting court orders. We cannot overlook RCW 26.09.191 and the relevant case law that defines and explains the application and implications of restrictions in temporary or permanent parenting plans.

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