MSU program to pair sexual assault survivors with shelter dogs

Local News

EAST LANSING, MICH. (WLNS) — Michigan State University leaders say they continuously work to help sexual assault survivors on campus after the Larry Nassar scandal. Nassar was a former MSU who doctor assaulted hundreds of female athletes.

Last year, the MSU Sexual Assault Program welcomed a support dog named Justice. Seeing the impact Justice has made on campus so far has inspired the new “Justice Heals” program at MSU.

MSU Veterinary Behaviorist Marie Hopfensperger said, “It was hugely important for us and certainly I would say a passion project.”

She is working on this project with Director of the MSU Center for Survivors Tana Fedewa and MSU Director of Veterinary Social Work Services with the School of Social Work Megan Spedoske.

This team of women are set to launch the “Justice Heals” program. It’s named after the original support dog Justice and their goal is to pair survivors with shelter dogs.

Hopfunsperger said, “This is one way that we can add an additional and perhaps connect with someone who may not feel like a traditional therapy environment is the right fit for them.

She said, “What grows out of a horrible situation I hope is a community engagement and a university engagement for doing better and helping the survivors in our community. “

“Justice Heals” is a four-phase animal-assisted intervention program, “It’s not just that we’re putting survivors with dogs and expecting magic. It’s really going to be very trauma informed and having a social worker walk side by side with them in that journey as well as having an animal specialist walking side by side with the enrolled dogs,” Hopfunsperger said.

This group of experts will address a complex health problem together.

Hopfunsperger said, “I’m really excited for the leadership piece of it and for strong women being willing to stand up and pave a path of recovery for our campus community.”

The dogs will come from Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter. Shelter Director Jodi LeBombard said they look forward to supporting this program and she is, “Confident this collaboration will be a life changing experience for all involved.”

“Our goal really is, could we create a blueprint for other communities to do something similar,” said Hopfunsperger.

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