District Attorney’s Office service dog helps to assist crime victims
It can often be difficult for victims of traumatic incidents to share their experiences, or for children in the community to open up to adults in the law enforcement and criminal justice fields.
Luckily, the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office has a furry friend that can step in and lend a paw. Earlier this year, the District Attorney’s Office introduced a new staff member to their team named Lola, a 3-year-old Australian shepherd, who assists in helping to emotionally support victims of crimes among other tasks.
“We start off in a place where many of the people coming in are traumatized,” said District Attorney Bruce Brown. “Engaging with an animal helps to calm them down, and lets them tell their story. Had we not had Lola, some of those victims wouldn’t have been able to tell their stories, and we wouldn’t be able to proceed on their cases just because they don’t want that level of anxiety in their lives. Lola allows them to participate in getting vindication, and becoming survivors of the act that caused them to be victimized.”
Lola joined the district in February from a group called Paws for LEOs (Law Enforcement Officers), a not-for-profit organization based out of Buena Vista that provides service dogs to law enforcement, firefighters, search and rescue and other first responders.
Lola lives in Leadville with her handler, the district’s Victim Services and Juvenile Diversion Services Coordinator Nancy Abila, who takes Lola around the district to work with victims and visit schools. Abila said that Lola assists individuals on a daily basis, not only helping to emotionally support victims dealing with traumatic incidents, but also to help kids in the juvenile diversion program open up about issues they’re dealing with, or in just visiting with kids at the school.
“I’ve seen kids who just don’t communicate well,” Abila said. “But when they sit on the floor with Lola all this stuff just starts to come out. I had a girl last week who was sad and crying, and she leaned over and she pet her and just cried. Sometimes that’s all they need. Some of these kids are going through so much they don’t know how to express a lot of it. I feel like she’s made a big impact on the kids for sure.”
While Lola is already quite active, she may soon have even more responsibilities as the district trains her to sit in with witnesses in the courtroom. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill into law allowing witnesses to testify during criminal proceedings while utilizing a trained service dog.
Brown noted that Lola isn’t yet certified to stay with witnesses during testimony, though the district hopes she’ll be able to take on that roll as early as next year.
“When she gets to that point, maybe sometime next year, she’ll be able to provide the type of support … where when young children are testifying, she’ll be able to lay at their feet and become a way for them to export some of that stress that might have been an impediment to testifying in court,” said Brown. “And get them through their testimony in a way that benefits them from having a service animal present.”
While Lola spends most of her time helping to people overcome traumatic experiences, or to remove the burden of otherwise emotionally exhausting processes in the criminal justice system, the job can be tough on her as well. It’s important for her to blow off a little steam when she’s not at work.
“We’ve used her on child sex assault cases, and on domestic violence cases where there’s lots of crying and she’s there for comfort,” said Abila. “Whether its kids coming in and out of my office, or even the staff at work who need some Lola time, she’s a comfort wherever she goes.
“It’s draining on her. If she’s gone through a day of crying that really drains her. She gets exhausted, and when you get home to have to let her run it off and give her some extra attention. When she’s at home, it’s all about comforting her instead of her comforting you.”
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