(therapy) Dog at Work

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Winston's rookie year as a therapy dog at the county courthouse is showing a lot of promise.

The 5-year-old English bulldog began volunteering his time on behalf of the Collin County District Attorney's Victims Assistance Division in March, helping people deal with the anxiety and stress of re-living the worst experiences of their lives.

Apparently, he's a natural, according to his boss, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis.

 "Winston is not just gentle and loving. He's also specially trained to provide comfort to traumatized victims," Judge Willis said. "He helps give a child the confidence they need to face their perpetrator and testify in front of a courtroom full of strangers."

On a lighter note, Judge Willis said "he makes me smile every time he walks by and pokes his head into my office. Maybe he's just hungry, but it seems like he's checking in on me."

Jenni Ball, a Victims Assistance coordinator who works with domestic violence victims, says the bulldog quickly built up a good reputation in his short tenure. One victim asked for Winston's daily company while awaiting to testify in a sexual assault trial, she said.

"I feel like our clients have responded very well to him," Ball said. "A lot of time they don't want to constantly talk about their case in our offices, but they can sit with this dog and the pressure for them seems to lessen."

Known for a calm, quiet demeanor and easy friendliness, Winston is also a source of comfort for kids coming into the office, either as the children of crime victims or as victims themselves.

"Almost every kid coming through here is thrilled with him. He's patient with them all and just rolls with it," Ball says.

The DA's Victim Assistance Division is staffed by three coordinators and a secretary who help educate crime victims about the criminal justice process and provide information about any social service agencies that can add additional help.

They also accompany victims to court, help with victim impact statements, and applications for crime victims' compensation. The services are available to victims of assault, homicide, sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping, or any other cases involving serious bodily injury and to relatives of deceased victims.

Coordinators provide victims with docket dates, jail status of defendants, case disposition, information about available social services and information, such as assistance in completing the Crime Victims' Compensation applications or Victim Impact Statements.

The DA's staff tossed around the idea of a therapy dog for crime victims for months but wanted to be sure they had the right candidate. Assistant District Attorney Katherine Nolden, Winston's human, researched how to make sure Winston could handle the job and, if need be, would be allowed to accompany a witness to testify in a trial.

Once Winston's certification came in back in January, Judge Willis gave an enthusiastic go-ahead for the new, 50-pound volunteer, knowing the dog would be a great asset to helping relieve victims' anxiety in the courthouse setting.​