Have you heard of a courthouse dog? They’re not legal experts, but these specially trained dogs are being used in the criminal justice system to help provide support for crime victims and their families, and even for social workers or other staff members.
Increasingly, courthouse dogs are being used in states across the country. Although they’re called courthouse dogs, these dogs often work not only in the courthouse, but in facilities like child advocacy centers. Courthouse dogs are typically therapy dogs; however, some of these working dogs may have more advanced training as assistance dogs and can even work as medical alert and response dogs.
Daisy is one example of an advance trained, assistance dog pulling double duty as a courthouse dog. I had the privilege of interviewing Lori Raineri and Cameron Handley about Daisy, and her role at the Yolo County, California Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com (please feel free to listen in to their full interview).
Lori personally trained Daisy as her assistance dog. She loved Daisy so much that she felt compelled to share Daisy’s talents with others. Lori reached out to her local District Attorney, Jeff Reisig, about creating a courthouse dog program. Reisig loved the idea and connected Lori with Cameron, the director of the MDIC. Through their joint efforts, the Yolo County pilot courthouse dog program was born!
The program’s goal is to reduce the trauma a child goes through when dealing with the stresses of the criminal justice system. Daisy helps calm the children and others participating in the process. She also helps them begin to trust again and to start the healing process. For professionals in the system, Daisy provides some relief from the emotionally draining situations they deal with day after day.
Daisy is there at the Center to greet the children when they arrive, and if they want, she can be with them during interviews, medical exams, and in court. Daisy knows a large number of commands, even in multiple languages. She can do tricks to break the ice, but then gets down to business, just quietly being there, comforting the children and their families during a tough time.
You can listen to the complete interview to discover more about how this public-private partnership was developed, all the tasks Daisy performs, and even how this unique government worker commutes to the office. You can also get ideas about how you might be able to start a similar program in your community.
I was so impressed with the work Cameron, Lori and Daisy, are doing together. I hope you are, too. I was also excited to see that the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (www.iaadp.org) are including a session on Courthouse Dogs at their upcoming Conference to be held September 25, 2010 in Seattle, Washington.
Hats off to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) and Merial® for conducting the 3rd annual National Service Dog Eye Exam Event throughout the month of May 2010. Through this event, more than 170 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists in the U.S. and Canada will provide free sight-saving eye exams to thousands of service dogs including guide dogs, assistance dogs, detection dogs and search and rescue dogs who selflessly serve the public.
The ACVO website indicates that to qualify, dogs must be active “working dogs” that were certified by a formal training program or organization or currently enrolled in a formal training program. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Specific service groups are listed on the website at www.ACVOeyeexam.org.
Owners/agents for the dog(s) must FIRST register the animal via an online registration form beginning April 1, at www.ACVOeyeexam.org. Registration ends May 16th. Once registered online, the owner/agent can locate a participating ophthalmologist in their area and contact that doctor to schedule an appointment, during the month of May. Appointment dates and times may vary depending on the facility and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more about and to register for the ACVO®/Merial® National Service Dog Eye Exam Event, visit www.ACVOeyeexam.org.
This event has a special place in my heart because it directly impacted my, now retired service dog, Morgan. About three years ago, Morgan developed severe problems with his eyes. I took him to see Dr. Kennard with Eye Care for Animals in Albuquerque, NM. Dr. Kennard quickly diagnosed Morgan’s degenerative condition and literally saved his eye sight.
Without Dr. Kennard’s rapid response, Morgan would have completely lost his eye sight. If that wasn’t enough, when I checked out of the clinic, I was presented with information about Morgan’s condition and medication to treat his eyes. What I did not receive was a bill for their services.
When I asked about the bill, the staff proudly told me about the National Service Dog Eye Exam Event. I can never thank Dr. Kennard enough for what he did and continues to do for Morgan and for the work he and so many other ophthalmologists are doing every day to protect and save the eyes of our devoted canine partners. I am forever grateful and I am now acutely aware of the importance of regular eye exams.
It seems like every time I turn around these days, some one is suggesting that I take my service dog, Whistle, to a dog park. As a person who uses a wheelchair, this is a little intimidating to me. I am nervous about letting Whistle off lead around strange dogs that neither he nor I know.
I am curious; do you take your dog on a regular basis to a dog park? How has that worked for you? We have a new dog park in my community and I have been interested in visiting it but again, I am nervous about letting Whistle off leash on terrain that can be difficult for me to navigate in my wheelchair. I am concerned about Whistle’s safety.
How safe are dog parks? I know there are great socialization benefits of going to a dog park but there are definitely risks also. A dog park is not your yard or a controlled training environment.
The jury is still out for me. I’m not sure if I feel comfortable taking Whistle to a dog park although I do think he would really enjoy it. Are dog parks a good idea for service dogs? Would you recommend them or avoid them? And if you don’t go to a dog park, how do you make sure your service dog gets enough exercise?
I guess I’m just really an over protective human partner but when I think about all the training and care that has gone into Whistle to support him as a service dog, I just don’t know if I can take the risk against the benefits.
Recently, I was honored as a “Women of Influence” by the New Mexico Business Weekly. Over 550 people attended the sold-out luncheon that honored 30 women for their contributions to New Mexico’s economy and community.
During the luncheon, each honoree was to take the stage, share five things about herself that no one knew, and exit the stage for a photo with two prominent female business leaders.
Several of my dearest friends and clients attended the luncheon with me. We dined on a chef salad and other assorted treats. As a woman with a disability, I have limited balance, and the thought of eating a chef salad while wearing a business suit and anticipating my turn on stage, was a little nerve racking.
As I lifted the fork to my mouth, bits of bacon immediately fell from the fork and came to rest down my shirt. As I looked around at the crowded room, I dared not to try and retrieve it. I thought I would just live with it and remove it once we were loaded safely in my van for the drive home.
Whistle was tucked nicely under the table and my husband, Franz, and I visited with the attendees and cheered as each honoree took the stage for her five minutes of recognition. Before I knew it, it was my turn. As the hostess, local award-winning journalist Augusta Meyers, called my name and read my bio, Whistle and I made our way to the stage.
Augusta greeted me on the accessible stage and I boldly shared five things about myself that weren’t too embarrassing, but would hopefully give the audience a glimpse into who I am as a person. As I left the stage, Whistle and I made our way to the foot of the ramp where the two prominent community leaders presented me with various swag including a bottle of wine, flowers and a gift certificate to a local jewelry store. I felt like a runner-up to Ms. America.
Trying to juggle all this stuff in a wheelchair, things were starting to get a little precarious. I was trying to hold the plaque, the flowers, a bottle of wine, and the other gift items, when I caught a twinkle in Whistle’s eye.
Lo and behold, as I was positioning my wheelchair for the photo, Whistle had caught the scent of bacon. It was nothing short of the television commercial where the dog is chanting, “bacon, bacon, bacon”.
Whistle was obsessed with getting the bacon that was down my shirt. He jumped in my lap and proceeded to stick his nose down my shirt. I was mortified as I could hear the two women saying, “Oh, how sweet. He loves you so much.” And I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me? He loves bacon!”
As the photographer tried to get Whistle to look toward the camera for the photo, Whistle was fixated on my chest. He was staring right at my chest with a look of sheer determination.
I just chuckled to myself and told the photographer not to worry and to just get the best shot he could. As Whistle and I made it back to our assigned table, I had to laugh at the situation. When you’re at your zenith, there’s nothing like a dog to give you a lesson in humility and reality.
The next day, I received an email from the New Mexico Business Weekly announcing the honorees and celebrating the event. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a photo of me with the two community leaders and Whistle is positioned next to me staring intensely at my chest. I had to chuckle once again.
I was so honored to be recognized as a “Woman of Influence” among my peers. And, I believe I am the luckiest girl in the world to have a service dog. Whistle provides me with the independence to get out into the world alone and he also makes each day an adventure and a lesson in what’s really important!
Today I had the privilege of interviewing Firefight Dayna Hilton and her fire safety Dalmatian dog, Sparkles, on Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. It was so great to experience Firefighter Dayna’s passion for working with Sparkles to educate children and their caregivers throughout the United States about fire safety.
Firefighter Dayna has created some really cool interactive web sites and (www.firefighterdayna.com and www.sparklesthefiresafetydog.com) that engage children, parents and teachers to learn about fire safety with Sparkles’ guidance. I never cease to be amazed by all of the ways that animals enhance our lives. Listening to Firefighter Dayna talk about Sparkles and how they have worked to change people’s perceptions and increased their knowledge about fire safety is just one more reminder.
Dayna shared with us about one family in particular whose child participated in one of her and Sparkles fire safety presentations in Oklahoma. The child listened to Dayna share fire safety messages in the program and then watched Sparkles reinforce how to crawl low under smoke.
Little did they know that the young girl that witnessed Sparkles’ demonstration would have to put those newly acquired skills to use when she was awakened early one morning by the smell of smoke. Thankfully, she knew what to do and was able to help her father get out to safety. Their home was completely engulfed in flames but fortunately, because of Sparkles and Firefighter Dayna’s fire safety presentation, they knew what to do and they were all saved.
I hope you get a chance to listen in to Firefighter Dayna’s interview so that you can hear another story of how dogs have given of selflessly of their talents and love to once again, serve us. It always makes me smile when I think of our canine partners and the unwavering devotion and love that they so freely shower upon us every day. Thank you Firefighter Dayna and Sparkles for all the wonderful work you are doing together!