AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — Two of the most lovable souls at the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken are named Bali and Miss Caroline, and it's easy to tell who they are when they visit on Tuesday mornings and afternoons.

Bali and Miss Caroline are therapy dogs with Love On Leashes, and every Tuesday, they visit the center to bring cuddles and calm to both the clients and staff alike.

The Child Advocacy Center is a nonprofit that works with local law enforcement and Department of Social Services in cases of child abuse or when a child is a witness of violence.

Therapy dogs hang out in the waiting room and help reduce stress for children and their families as they wait for therapy or a forensic interview, said Susan Meehan, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center.

Bali is a golden retriever — turning 8 years old in January — who heads to the center with his owner, Joann Minnick, every Tuesday to provide some stress relief to clients and staff.

Meehan gave an example of how Bali helps calm children.

She said they had an emergency forensic case in not too long ago with a little girl whose incident had just happened the day before and both she and her mother were upset.

"Bali was the one that was here," Meehan said. "And she was sitting on the couch very sad and ... he literally just crawled up in her lap and she just pet him, and by the end she was actually sort of playing with him in our lobby."

Meehan said knowing what had just happened to the girl and seeing her smiling and playing was really special.

The staff at center benefit from the dogs, as well.

"All our staff deals with a lot of vicarious trauma, so you'll see them going out, sometimes our nurses will go out there," Meehan said.

Minnick said she brings Bali out to do therapy at least twice a week, and if they don't go out, he gets depressed and "mopes around," she said.

"There's been lots of research to show the benefits of therapy dogs, just on mood, on stress, heart rate, all sorts of things," Meehan said. "But mostly for our kids it's to try and help when they're coming in and they're sad and scared, and just to see a smile actually go on their face and them to relax just a little bit."

"That's the best part," added Minnick.


Information from: Aiken Standard,