- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - It was Theo’s “mellow but astute” demeanor that landed him the job.

The Albemarle County commonwealth’s attorney office has a furry new staffer. Theo, a 4-year-old black Labrador, is the office’s new courthouse dog.

Originally trained as a wheelchair assistance dog by Service Dogs of Virginia, Theo was selected to work in the office for his ability to “defuse and de-stress” intense situations, said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matt Quatrara.

As a courthouse dog, Theo will serve as a calm presence that can bring comfort and emotional support to victims and witnesses who are being interviewed in the office, according to a news release.

“Where (victims) have to come into your office and talk to you about what might be the worst thing that has happened to them . it calms them,” county Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford said in the release. “It enables them to focus a little more and to get through the process without additional trauma.”

Through training with Quatrara and Susan Painter, director of Albemarle’s victim-witness program, Theo can now be present when officers or prosecutors interview victims or witnesses of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Theo was adopted from the Service Dogs for Virginia for about $500 - all of which came from proceeds of assets seized by the commonwealth in drug cases, Quatrara said. As a result, Theo won’t be another worker on taxpayers’ dime. Quatrara will personally cover all of Theo’s day-to-day living expenses.

Bringing a dog into a court office is not unprecedented. The national organization Courthouse Dogs started bringing dogs into courtrooms in 2008. After hearing about the effectiveness of the program, Lunsford began seeking a canine for the county early this year.

Bringing in Theo over other candidates was a joint decision between the office and Service Dogs for Virginia, with consultation from Courthouse Dogs.

While Theo has received training through Courthouse Dogs, he will only be used in interview settings for the time being. Transitioning into the courtroom setting is an “aspiration,” Quatrara said. “We’re not there yet.”

Quatrara will be Theo’s primary caretaker, providing a home and carpooling with him to work each day. While he’ll remain mostly in the office of the commonwealth’s attorney, Quatrara said Theo will be transported to police departments or even crime scenes on an “as-needed basis.”

___

Information from: The Daily Progress, http://www.dailyprogress.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide