Marine veteran and University of Central Florida doctoral student Jessie Holton experienced bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder after serving two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan – but he learned something from his stressful situation that is now helping victims of child abuse.

Holton obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice at UCF and is pursuing a doctorate in education while working for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.

The first assignment for professor Elizabeth Mustaine’s “Child Abuse and Society” course was to write a mock grant proposal aimed at battling child abuse. While researching Florida child-abuse statutes, he saw a law that would allow for therapy dogs to be used during interviews of child-abuse victims, but he wasn’t aware of anyone using them.

Thinking back to when he was assigned a therapy dog as a veteran suffering from PTSD, he remembered the night terrors he experienced and how his dog would wake him and comfort  him.

So for his class assignment, Holton decided to write a grant proposal for a therapy-dog program to help child-abuse victims. The idea was so popular in class that Mustaine canceled other class assignments and instructed the class to draft a real grant proposal for the project.

While working at the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Holton shared the idea with sheriff’s candidate Wayne Ivey, who later won the election and helped Holton implement the therapy-dog program for children, which is one of the first of its kind.

The Brevard program uses Holton’s dog, Primus, to help children through the course of an investigation and trial. Holton said Primus, a pug-beagle mix, or “Puggle,” is great with kids and knows how to behave and stay quiet while in the courtroom.

The program has become so successful that it is being adopted by some other law-enforcement agencies around the state.

“Thanks to the (UCF College of Education) program, I’ve been able to turn my idea into a real, functioning therapy program,” Holton said.