Once injured dog is now child ‘therapist’ at the courthouse

It wasn’t that long ago that Shadow the dog could not stand at all, recovering from severe injuries after being hit by a car.

But these days, she stands both literally and figuratively. Shadow stands for justice.

The medium-sized young border collie mix has entered a new role with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office as a courthouse therapy dog, as Shadow supports children in court testimony. Her purpose is to help children cope with stress so they can tell their stories both in and out of court. They develop a trust with the dog and a sense of security with her in the courtroom.

“(A courthouse therapy dog) basically brings a sense of relief to the kids, helps them to open up if they’ve been sexually assaulted or abused, things of that nature,” said Lt. Clint Patterson, commander of Juvenile Investigations and Shadow’s new handler. “It helps with rapport building with the children, so that child feels more comfortable talking to police.”

After being struck by a car on River Road, Shadow was brought to the St. Charles Parish Animal Shelter to receive care. She could not walk with her rear legs, and took residence in a special room set up by the shelter to heal.

Six weeks later, Shadow was back up and about. She also showed she was a real trooper about it all: despite the pain and discomfort, she was nothing less than warm and affectionate throughout the process, according to Animal Shelter Supervisor Dr. Jena Troxler.

“Despite the injury she was highly tolerant of treatment,” said Troxler. “Her constantly sweet attitude, despite her homeless and injured predicament, was heartwarming.”

Troxler and her staff also brainstormed a new occupation for Shadow they thought would fit her beautifully.

“We had told (Troxler) what we were looking for,” Patterson said. “She told us, ‘this dog is perfect.’ Her temperament was perfect for what we were searching for.”

After nearly 10 years in working with sexually, physically and mentally abused children along with forensically interviewing countless children, Patterson learned about “canine companions for kids” and felt it could have a positive impact with the community and the Sheriff’s Office. Patterson said the key element for a courthouse therapy dog is a gentle demeanor.

“She’s a very warmhearted dog. She loves kids and she’s very comfortable around them,” Patterson said. “Once she’s introduced to the courtroom, she will actually take the stand with the child, sitting on the stand at the child’s feet. It gives them a sense that someone’s there with them and it comforts them. It helps them relax a little more and to not be so afraid.”

While still in training for regular courthouse duty, Shadow’s work has already begun to pay dividends. Patterson noted Shadow was requested by a child during one pre-trial interview, and she helped the child feel comfortable enough to open up.

“Kids get attached to her quickly,” Patterson said. “When kids come in, if they are not afraid of animals, we introduce them to her, let them throw the ball and play with her in the hallway. They pet her, love on her and see the different tricks she does.

“In that case, the child disclosed additional information for the case. It was really overwhelming, actually. She’s going to have a positive impact on our job and on criminal cases.”

Patterson takes Shadow to work each day and then Shadow returns home with him. Her warmth isn’t limited to the courtroom.

“She’s got a routine in the morning … she knows everyone in the building keeps snacks in their desk,” Patterson said. “She’ll go see them in them each morning and she makes her rounds. One of my detectives was very afraid of dogs when she started. Now, she calls her to her office, pets her … she’s had an impact on a lot of people. I feel like it breaks up the monotony.”

 

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