Dogs are widely used to support humans in various roles around the world. They work on farms, support the emergency services, work alongside the armed forces, and assisting people with a disability. Now, many organizations are realizing the benefits of using a dog to offer emotional support. Emotional support dogs are already used in many schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. There are even police departments that are employing emotional support dogs to offer comfort to victims of crime, witnesses, and grieving families. Now, even more organizations are using emotional support dogs. The Star Tribune reports that the Hennepin County Attorney Office has introduced its newest member of staff; a four-month-old golden doodle puppy called Barrett. This is the first emotional support dog used by the office.
Barrett is not ready to work at his full capacity yet, as he is still undergoing an extensive training program to prepare him for his role. When he has completed his training, he will work with victims, witnesses, and other people attending court. It is likely to take six months for him to complete his training and begin work, according to Hennepin County Court Attorney Mike Freeman. Freeman has said that they are aware that emotional support dogs are particularly beneficial in juvenile cases. In many instances, the children do not want to act as witnesses, and they are feeling stressed. The presence of a dog has helped to keep them calm. Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is not the only office of its kind to employ an emotional support dog as this is now part of a growing trend. Another office that has such a dog is the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. Star Tribune also reported the story of them employing their first emotional support dog back in July 2019. The dog working for Ramsey County Attorney’s Office is a golden retriever called Norie.
Dogs have been employed by courthouses in an emotional support capacity for longer than you probably think. It may surprise you to learn that the first emotional support dog employed by a courthouse was in Arkansas in 2003. Around this time, many other courthouses adopted emotional support dogs, including Arizona, Hawaii, and Arizona. Therefore, Barrett is just the latest in a long line of dogs that have served in such roles. Barret is being trained for this role by Kathryn Newman, who has stressed the importance of his work. She has said that he will play an invaluable role in providing emotional support to those who are testifying. He could also support the staff at the courthouse as part of his work. Barret was chosen partly because of his breed mix. The black puppy is one-quarter Golden Retriever and three-quarters poodle. This combination means that he is less likely to cause allergic reactions in people, so he is suitable for use to support more people.
A large proportion of Barrett’s training will take place within the courthouse, as he must become accustomed to the sights, sounds, and smells of this environment. Once his training is complete, he will work for five and a half days every week. The intention is to use him with both adults and children. Newman will use the success and experiences of dogs like Norie as guidance in the training process. For the past six months, Norie has supported victims approximately three or four times every week. When victims are brought to the courthouse to meet with prosecutors and discuss their case, they are told about Norie and given the option to have her support them. One person who can account for the wonderful work done by Norie so far is Tami McConkey, who is the director of the victim, witness, and community services division for Ramsey Court. She has described how the dog has worked with both adults and with children as young as five years of age. Some of the people she has helped have included victims of sexual assault.
According to McConkey, one woman was so overwhelmed when she met with her prosecutor that she could hardly speak. As soon as Norie was brought into the room and the woman began petting her, the woman calmed down and was able to continue speaking. It was clear that she found the presence of the dog helpful and calming. While there are clear benefits to having emotional support dogs, there are also some challenges that have led to some courthouses opposing their use. Some believe that the presence of an emotional support dog could sway jurors to have emotional support and sympathy towards the victims and make biased decisions. Currently, Norie works only in the county attorney’s office rather than in the courthouse. However, there are plans to introduce the dog into the courthouse building in the future, At first, this will happen only when the courthouse is empty, although there is the possibility that she may support victims in the courtroom at a later date.
In McConkey’s opinion, the more facilities that can have dogs like this, the better. She believes that the presence of an emotional support dog is good for everyone. Attorney Mike Freeman agrees, and he said that he first had the idea of introducing a dog to his office after attending a national district attorney’s meeting four years ago when the idea was discussed. It wasn’t until two years later that talks about this topic became more serious. Freeman is a dog owner himself, as he has a Golden Retriever called Sam. He claims that his experiences as a dog owner have also inspired his decision to employ an emotional support dog at his offices. Freeman says that there is nothing like getting up in the morning and being greeted by Sam. Barret does not live with Freeman as he is being cared for by another attorney from the office who brings the dog to work with him.