A Dog is for Everybody

“The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely convict.”

ABA Criminal Justice Standard 3-1.2 (c)

It is our philosophy that a courthouse facility dog should be able to assist anyone during stressful stages of criminal justice proceedings, as well as in family and treatment courts.

Courthouse facility dog Kerris in drug court in Kitsap County, Washington.

Kitsap County District Court Judge Kevin Kelly’s courthouse facility dog Kerris has worked in drug court and in the courtroom. She also visits with support staff, defense counsel, jurors, law enforcement officers and judges during the course of her day. Many people from all walks of life regard her as a friend.

 

Chelsea and Jeeter

– by Ellen O’Neill-Stephens

Jeeter’s first job was working in the King County Juvenile Drug Court. I was the drug court prosecutor and I thought that many of the teenagers would enjoy having a dog to hug and play with while they waited for their hearings. In addition to being addicted to drugs and alcohol many of these children came from dysfunctional families and were emotionally neglected.

Drug Court lasted for four hours. During the hearings, Jeeter usually snoozed in the middle of the horseshoe-shaped area between where the judge sat and the lawyers and treatment providers worked with an individual teenager. Even while dozing, Jeeter brought a sense of normalcy and calm to all of us especially when hearings became emotionally charged. During the court afternoon recess, he would play with the kids in the lobby. He was considered a member of the Drug Court team and participated in graduation ceremonies by carrying a basket in his mouth that contained gifts for the graduates.

Chelsea had entered drug court with her two sisters after they had been arrested for stealing a car. All of them were under the influence of cocaine. Their mother was also a drug addict and they lived in a trailer in a rural part of the county. Chelsea was 13.

Chelsea and her sisters were involved in drug court for over two years. It was a difficult journey for all of them. They required in-patient treatment, relapsed many times and required intense family counseling. Eventually, Chelsea’s two sisters met the sobriety requirements to graduate from Drug Court and have their felony charges dismissed.

Chelsea floundered. She ran away from home and started using cocaine and methamphetamine. Upon her arrest, the Drug Court team determined that we could do nothing more to assist her in her recovery and decided to terminate her from the program. This would mean that Chelsea would have several felony convictions on her record.

A detention guard brought a handcuffed Chelsea into the courtroom. She cried and was full of despair when we told her that she would be terminated and sentenced. I knew that Chelsea was very fond of Jeeter and asked the judge for permission to allow them some cuddle time before she was returned to detention.

Jeeter approached the table where Chelsea was seated, put his two paws up on it and reached his head towards her. Chelsea dissolved into tears and buried her head into Jeeter’s neck. After she composed herself she turned to all of us and said, “See Jeeter thinks I can get sober, please give me another chance.”

We were so moved by the interaction between the two of them that we put our best judgment aside and agreed that she could have one last chance.

Thus began a very special partnership between a sixteen-year-old girl and a golden lab. Chelsea would come to Juvenile Court early so that she could help me take Jeeter for a walk and groom him before court began. While she waited for her case to be called, the two of them sat beside one another in the back of the courtroom where she would pet him. Chelsea’s attendance at school improved; she went to live with her father, engaged in treatment and remained sober. At last, she met the requirements to graduate.

A local news station covered Chelsea’s graduation ceremony and interviewed her about her relationship with our Drug Court dog. Then despite her promise to stay in touch, we never saw Chelsea again.

Four years later Jeeter and I bumped into Chelsea. She was at the courthouse to pick up some paperwork. We had a joyous reunion and I introduced her to a visiting professor from the University of Baltimore who was interviewing judges and lawyers about our courthouse dog program.

The professor interviewed Chelsea who now had a job, was still sober, crime-free and living with her father and grandmother. When asked about her experiences with Jeeter she simply said, “Jeeter saved my life.”

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