Lily the dog: Crisis volunteer brightens people’s spirits

Lily Pisano has been a volunteer with the Rape Crisis Center of Milford for the past two years. She brightens up people’s day and spends most of her days listening to clients.

Dogs can be humans’ best friends, and Lily is no exception to that rule: she is a golden retriever and an award-winning therapy dog.

“She’s the first in the state of Connecticut to work in a center like ours,” said Peggy Pisano, director of victim services at the rape crisis center. Pisano, who has been a part of the center for nearly 40 years has brought her family dog to help victims of sexual assault find any comfort.

“She has an affinity for people,” said Pisano. “She is the very right dog for the right kind of situation.”

Pisano said when the center’s executive director Tony Vitti joined, he came with the first-hand knowledge of how therapy dogs can help anyone — young or old. He especially saw it following a brutal murder of a Milford teenager. Therapy dogs were brought into the local high school to help the teens affected by that tragedy.

Pisano brought her dog to go through Pet Partner Therapy, the organization that trains dogs to become companions facing trauma or some sort of tragedy. Lily currently holds a certificate from there.

Pisano said she knew Lily, 9, had a great demeanor. Her husband works with a local soccer league. Every time Lily was at the field, the players knew she was there, and made sure to say hello.

“She loves meeting new people, and just being present with them,” said Pisano.

As part of her training to be a therapy dog, some of Lily’s training was a little stressful. It didn’t matter, though, she passed with flying colors. Part of the training included loud noises and many people touching her at once.

At the Rape Crisis Center of Milford, clients sometimes request to have sessions with Lily, sometimes they don’t.

“Lily, out of all of us, is the very best listener,” said Pisano. “She really does the work, by just being a dog.”
Bouncing for joy
Lily is Pisano’s constant companion. She is still the family pet, but has an important job to do. Pisano said that when she asks, “are you ready for work?” the dog just jumps for joy. You could almost knock her over she is so happy.

Since Lily joined forces with the center, Pisano said there have been numerous inquiries about the program by other agencies.

“We were up in the capital and all kinds of legislators … it was just amazing to me … they were saying they need to have a dog like this all the time,” Pisano said.

Lily just gives you a moment to let the stress go away.

One time, Pisano said, a client came in to meet with an advocate. The client was a little early, so went to wait in an office. By the time Pisano and the advocate came into the office, the client was on the floor, sitting with Lily, just crying.

“She keeps all of your secrets,” said Pisano.

For the work, Lily was honored in April by the United Way of Milfird for a simple reason.

“Because of what she does and how she serves. The fact that she makes so many people … feel calmer and they can engage with her,” said Gary Johnson of the United Way. “It’s a nice story for the community to see.”
About the Rape Crisis Center
The Rape Crisis Center of Milford serves Milford and the surrounding towns, including Shelton, Ansonia, Derby, Orange, Seymour and West Haven. Its mission is to end sexual violence through assisting victims, teaching ways to avoid prevention, general education and advocating for public policy.

According to the center’s website: Hotline crisis calls are received 24 hours of every day by calling locally at 203-878-1212 or toll free 888-999-5545. The operator will ask for a telephone number where you can be reached and a certified counselor will return your call.

Pisano said the center could always use more volunteers. There is a new volunteer class starting, and no prior experience is necessary. To volunteer, or for more information, call 203-874-8712. Since the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, many volunteers are needed.

The center also has educators who go to schools from kindergarten through 12th grade to help raise awareness about prevention.