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To support CCN's PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT Animal Advocacy Program, you can select the "Donate" button at the top of this webpage, or visit our PAWS GoFundMe


Established in 2011, the state- and nationally-recognized, award-winning PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT program employs canine advocates in animal assisted therapy, legal advocacy, and courtroom accompaniment for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). Canine advocates, Penny, Ari, and Rune, provide sympathetic ears and support to help clients better express their emotions and facilitate healing.

Program Components

The PAWS program has evolved into a high successful service offering four distinct components, including:

  1. assisting and providing emotional support and comfort to victims during trauma-informed counseling/therapy services (i.e., animal assisted therapy);
  2. accompanying domestic violence (DV) victims in Allegheny County courtrooms to help them face their perpetrators during Protection From Abuse (PFA) hearings and help find legal recourse;
  3. an educational component for local veterinarians and animal service providers designed to address the intersection between animal abuse and IPV; and,
  4. emergency animal care stipends for pets of families impacted by DV.

PAWS Animal Advocates


CCN’s first working canine, is a four-pawed, spaniel mix advocate who has a demonstrated commitment to her advocacy work with DV victims. Both CCN staff and the movement at-large owe this canine a debt of gratitude for the ground she has traversed in demonstrating how the human-animal bond benefits survivors who are experiencing emotional trauma. CCN’s clients have made it abundantly clear, that Penny, by virtue of being a rescued shelter dog, has motivated them toward the reconstruction of their own lives. Clients believe that Penny, as a former shelter rescue, has a greater understanding of their needs, particularly since many victims are, themselves, homeless, due to domestic violence. From a homeless shelter dog to a canine professional on the national scene, our clients express that if Penny demonstrates such success is possible for a canine, it is also possible for them.


CCN's second working canine (and younger brother of Penny), is an Australian Shepherd mix, and currently provides emotional support to survivors during individual therapy/counseling sessions (virtually, at this time), as well as courtroom accompaniment.


CCN's third and newest canine advocate to join the PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT team, is a chocolate Labrador Retriever. Born June 2020, Rune's current and ongoing training focuses on socialization, basic obedience, and becoming attuned to the various working conditions she will encounter on the job. As a PAWS canine advocate-in-training, Rune is preparing to work with CCN legal advocates to provide courtroom accompaniment to support victims of domestic violence when facing their abusers during Protection From Abuse (PFA) hearings.

PAWS Prestige


In May, CCN's PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT program was featured at the national level again, with a special exposé aired on Court TV with Julie Grant, highlighting the origin and effectiveness of the animal advocacy program for victims. Link to video: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=540878869931721

During the spring, PAWS canine advocate, Penny, was nominated for the 2020 American Humane Hero Dog Award in the "Service Dog" category. The annual, nationwide competition recognized heroes on both ends of the leash, and is sponsored by Hallmark Channel.


CCN's PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT program was honored with the 2017 Governor's Victim Service Pathfinder Program Award. Governed by the Office of Victim Services (OVS) in the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency (PCCD), the Program Award is given to a program that has made notable contributions to the community and has a reputation for delivering services within the community. The PAWS program was recognized for innovation, creativity, and outstanding contributions to DV victims, the community, and the anti-violence field.


CCN's PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT program was selected by PCCD as one of the four most innovative initiatives within PA’s victim services field. Remarkably, PAWS’ selection as one of four innovative programs was noted at the national level, prominently featured in the annual report of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). As a result, OVC may utilize PAWS’ canine courtroom advocacy during Congressional testimony to illustrate the importance of innovation in victim services through Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant funding.

PAWS Program Efficacy

All CCN victim services and programs, including PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT, are evaluated annually by an independent researcher for efficacy based on client feedback. During the most recent fiscal year (FY 2019-20), CCN clients reported the following in regard to the PAWS program:

Animal Assisted Therapy
Legal Advocacy/Courtroom Accompaniment
Veterinarian Outreach & Training

PAWS in the Media

Select media appearances highlighting the work of the PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT program and our supportive animal advocates:

TribLive: Center for domestic violence victims adds new 'animal advocate' (2020.09.25)
WPXI NBC Pittsburgh: New dog joins team to help victims of domestic violence (2020.09.24)
KDKA CBS Pittsburgh: Meet Rune: Crisis Center North's newest comfort dog (2020.09.24)
Yahoo! News: New addition to Crisis Center North PAWS FOR EMPOWERMENT team (2020.09.24)
CourtTV: Shelter dog turns super hero for survivors (2020.05.08)
TribLive: Former Latrobe shelter dog nominated for national Hero Dog award (2020.04.21)
Sparkt: Vets on front line of domestic violence fight (2020.09.02)
Sparkt: Rescue dogs "rescue" victims of domestic violence (2018.12.31)
TribLive: Crisis Center North has come a long way in four decades (2018.10.27)
KDKA CBS Pittsburgh: Crisis Center North turning rescue dogs into canine court advocates (2017.10.04)