TOMAH, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The stress of the pandemic has led to greater sexual assault and domestic abuse issues in Monroe County.

First News at Nine’s Alex Lorff shares how a nonprofit is looking to support victims with the help of a furry friend.

The COVID-19 pandemic is leading a Monroe County organization to expand the scope of its service.

Brighter Tomorrows assists survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Program Coordinator Jan Bruder says the pandemic has caused an escalation in the number of people seeking help.

“We saw a very, and we’re still seeing a very dramatic increase in the number of clients we’re seeing and the number of services we’re providing,” Bruder explained. “Especially our numbers in crisis calls have almost doubled and the number of services we’re providing are a lot more intense.”

Bruder says Brighter Tomorrows serves an average of 400 victims per year, but the pandemic has exacerbated domestic abuse in the area.

The organization will be increasing its services to try and provide different support options for survivors, and its newest program will involve a therapy dog.

Bruder says the dog will help console people who share their abuse experiences both with police and in court.

“He’ll actually be trained to sit on their feet and sit upon the stand with them to provide that additional comfort and support,” Bruder said. “He’ll also have special training to help victims as they report to law enforcement.”

The dog will also have the training to support children, as Brighter Tomorrows says children who have a therapy dog present tend to disclose more information regarding past trauma.

Support for the therapy dog program is being provided by the Tomah Health Foundation.

The foundation provided a $1,500 donation to Brighter Tomorrows on Thursday to help with funding.

Vice President Brian Eirschele says the foundation is focused on giving back to causes that will benefit the surrounding area.

“We give money local to our community, Sparta, Tomah, Monroe County, so everything that’s given by our community is given back to our community,” Eirschele said.

Once the dog is fully trained and available, Bruder wants to use it to show her appreciation for Tomah Health.

“We’re hoping to be able to bring the therapy dog here so he can pay back some of his donations by visiting patients and helping if there are victims here that need our help,” Bruder said.

In Tomah, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.

Brighter Tomorrows is also planning to visit clinics and hospitals throughout Monroe County to provide individualized outreach to abuse victims.