Children’s Advocacy Center therapy dog receives top honors from the American Kennel Club

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Jacqui Broadus, a mental health therapist and registered pet partners therapist, with Cody and Riley.

The Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) has a furry staff member named Riley who helps kids every day. You see, Riley is a therapy dog who recently earned the highest designation of THDD by the American Kennel Club (AKC). That means Riley has completed 400 therapy visits with kids dealing with abusive situations.

Therapy dogs that have earned the AKC Therapy Dog title are not service dogs, they are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes. From working with a child to visiting a senior, therapy dogs help improve the lives of others.

Riley, an energetic but controlled and extremely observant 10-year old Maltese, sits in on group sessions in the Center in Niceville and is also prescribed for individual therapy. He helps the kids learn self-confidence and the kids teach him tricks. In group sessions, he often instinctively sits in front of the child who feels the worst. Around the Center, he wanders into an office to visit staff when they are having a particularly challenging day. In fact, according to the therapists, the kids will tell Riley things they won’t tell them. The kids will say, “I’ll tell Riley, you can listen if you want.”

Riley has a younger adopted brother named Cody who is going through therapy dog training to follow in his big brother’s footsteps. Cody is a 3-year old Maltese Poodle mix and has not yet achieved any designations, but has passed Basic Obedience. He provides support to the staff.

          Jacqui Broadus, a mental health therapist and registered pet partners therapist at the Center, works closely with Riley, Cody and the kids. The upbeat Broadus commented, “I became a Registered Pet Partners Team with Riley in 2010, which means I completed a handler’s course and then trained with Riley. Together we passed an obedience evaluation. The main focus is for handlers to develop a powerful bond with their therapy dog, and we have done that for sure. Both Riley and Cody are an integral part of our team at ECCAC.”

ECCAC handles cases involving babies and children through 18 years of age. So far this year, the Center served over 650 kids across the socio-economic spectrum in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Most are female between the ages of four and 12.

“We see the most egregious cases — child sex, physical abuse, drug endangerment, and domestic violence exposure,” said the Center’s CEO, Julie Hurst. “Ninety percent are abused by someone they know.”

ECCAC’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect, protect children in Okaloosa and Walton Counties, and restore the lives and futures of these impacted children. The Center’s child-friendly facility in Niceville houses a multidisciplinary team of child protection personnel, prosecutors, law enforcement, DCF, therapists, and ECCAC staff and volunteers. A second Center is currently under construction in DeFuniak Springs to accommodate Walton County children. Services are provided at no cost by ECCAC, a 501-C-3 non-profit organization.

For further information, visit If abuse is suspected, call the anonymous Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.