Parker the golden retriever helps Ukrainian girls deal with trauma

Ukrainian girls left traumatised by Russia’s invasion of their country are receiving help from a therapy dog named Parker, who is trained to help identify and deal with stress.

Charity organisation Save the Children is working with specialist teams to help deliver child-friendly social recreational services in schools and community centres in Ukraine and part of their efforts include the work of Parker – a golden retriever.

Khrystyna and Victoriya, both aged nine and living outside of Kyiv, are among those responding positively to the canine therapy, which the charity said helps children “open up more easily” and grounds them in the present moment to let go of negative feelings.

Dog Parker pictured with Karina, 13 (Oleksandr Khomenko/Save the Children)
Dog Parker pictured with Karina, 13 (Oleksandr Khomenko/Save the Children)

“The dog was showing us his tricks,” said Khrystyna.

“For example, how he was trained to sit. He likes cookies. I was interested because my own dog knows only two commands: lie down and sit. It’s very cool when a dog is trained and knows what to do.”

Victoriya said: “We were playing with the dog. The way we were playing felt like love from Parker.”

The girls have vivid traumatic memories of the start of Russia’s bombing campaign in Ukraine.

Victoriya said: “After the war began, my leg started to go numb, that’s all. When there were bombings, my leg hurt a lot and I couldn’t stand on it.

“It happened when we were bombed and I was sitting on a chair and couldn’t get up. I didn’t know why, as if something was gripping in my leg, I could barely walk.”

Khrystyna said: “During the first day, we were sitting in the basement when the bombing started. We spent the night there.

“The next day we were afraid, of course, but it was good that there was still power and then the light went out and we didn’t know what to do.

“During the day, with my aunt’s mom, we were playing the game called Battleship, or chess, or drew, or read, or played with the cat.”

Children playing with Parker
Children playing with Parker (Oleksandr Khomenko/Save the Children)

Save the Children canine therapy specialist Nataliya said: “When we work with traumatised people, the first thing that specialists often encounter is that many people aren’t ready to express themselves.

“The classic manifestation of children who try to stand out are children who feel more fear or more anger, or more need for attention and when a canine therapist starts working with such children, they change roles.”

The girls are both longing for peace and stability in Ukraine.

Khrystyna said: “I wish everyone to be peaceful, not to fight, not to quarrel, not to be separated. I also want the war to end. This is the dream and desire of every Ukrainian.

“I want to go abroad and see what’s there. My grandparents promised me we could go to Egypt in the New Year, but the situation in Ukraine means that it’s impossible; for the new year, I just want the war to end.”