Sully, a seasoned expert, lands in Tempe with a welcome splash

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Sully, the 2-year-old comfort canine.

Sully, a 2-year-old Labrador trained to comfort those in need, is the newest member of Tempe’s CARE 7 Victim Services team. The pup joined the team as the city recognized Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

On the job for just a few weeks, Sully offers comfort to victims of violence as they seek help with orders of protection or retell their harrowing stories to police.

He does double duty as a calming and smile-inducing presence among public safety and victim services employees who regularly face difficult circumstances in the course of their work.

“He’s not there to judge or to ask any questions. He’s strictly there to love and listen and be sweet,” said CARE 7 Victim Advocate Anastasia Stinchfield, Sully’s main handler.

Launched in 1997, the city of Tempe’s CARE 7 team provides immediate crisis assistance to those in need as part of a partnership between the Human Services, Police and Fire departments.

Staff and volunteers provide guidance and comfort during car accidents, assaults, fires and a wide range of other incidents.

In the past two decades, the program has grown to include follow- up resources such as victim advocacy and counseling that officials say foster healing and recovery.

The Victim Services team assists victims of crime, including domestic violence and sexual assault. Team members answer questions and provide information, offer emotional support, make connections to social services and help victims navigate the criminal justice system.

For some victims, this work means finding shelter. For others, it means sitting side-by-side to fill out an order of protection.

For still others, it means accessing counseling in the community. For Sully, the work is all about offering affection, comfort and a friendly face.

Sully joined the team from his home state of Michigan, where he had been training as a service dog and instead found a home with CARE 7. He lives with Stinchfield and also works closely with his backup handler, Victim Services Coordinator Maria Gonzalez.

Focused on taking care of others, Sully is aptly named after Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger who famously landed an airliner in the Hudson River after losing two engines to a bird strike.

Five days a week, Sully the pup dons a CARE 7 vest and interacts with victims at the Tempe Municipal Court, Tempe Police Department and CARE 7 office. But Sully is happy to go wherever he is needed.

During a recent trip to the courthouse, Stinchfield and Sully came across a victim who needed an order of protection.

Thanks to Sully’s calming effect, Stinchfield said she was able to walk the victim through the process of filling out the protective order.

When Stinchfield is alone, she’s never certain whether a victim will be open to accepting her assistance. But Sully’s comforting presence makes a difference.

“Right away that door is opened with Sully,” she said. “They look at me and say ‘Hi, do you work here?’ So I have that door open to say, ‘Yes I work here. How can I help you?’.”

The CARE 7 team continually looks for ways to expand its services and meet community needs, said Manager Kristen Scharlau.

To enhance victim services, the team embedded two victim advocates at the Tempe Police Department’s Domestic Violence and Special Victims units to assist officers. Adding a comfort dog is one more way of reaching victims.

“The more you support victims, the more likely they are to engage in court services,” Scharlau said. “We want the victims to feel empowered enough and supported enough to aid in that process.”

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