Thursday, October 12, 2023

Courtroom canine

New county advocate offers support to victims, witnesses

Jellybean provides a special level of comfort to 
victims and witnesses in her new job with
the Wayne County Prosecutor's office.
Witnesses and victims have a new advocate in the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office who offers a unique skill set along with her sweet nature and calm demeanor.

Jellybean, the first canine court advocate in the county office, is described as half black Labrador and half Golden Retriever. In February 2023, Mark Hindelang, the chief of information and technology at the prosecutor's office, along with his wife and three sons, adopted Jellybean. She rides to work with Hindelang daily and reports to her “boss,” Child Advocate Jamie Buchholtz. When her tail slows down to a manageable wag after greeting Buchholtz and the other staff members, Jellybean dons her neckerchief and begins her workday. She meets with victims and walks them to court. With a loving look and maybe a small pat she helps to assuage the anxiety of both child and adult victims and witnesses, Buchholtz said. 

Prosecutor Kym Worthy had been hoping to add a special four-footed victim advocate to the Victims' Advocates Unit to serve child and adult victims and witnesses when they participate in a court case.  In Michigan all canine advocates, including Jellybean, come from the Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester. They go through two years of intensive obedience and service training. Jellybean had a tendency to stop while walking which led to her reassignment to the Canine Advocacy Program (CAP) in Oakland County. 

Jellybean then successfully completed six weeks of intensive training to become “certified” as a canine advocate. She must not react to courtroom distractions, needs to be able to walk on a lead without pulling, and to remain in a “sit/stay” position while her handler moves out of her sight range. During her training, Wayne County Court Services provided an empty courtroom so that mock trials could be conducted with county volunteers to familiarize her with the noises and movement associated with being in court. 

Buchholtz continues Jellybean's training twice a week. Jellybean has not yet been involved in a trial but has attended several pretrial interviews with victims of all ages. She has been present in interviews with child victims, adult victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and is requested for witnesses of homicides. She does not need to be present in the courtroom to be a benefit to victims and witnesses, Buchholtz explained. 

“The effect Jellybean has on nervous or vulnerable victims really needs to be seen to be believed.  She has a calming effect on nervous children and adults who must come to court to discuss difficult facts,” Buchholtz said.

Jellybean is a service dog, she is not an office therapy dog, Buchholtz stressed. 

“The biggest difference is that a service dog is present only for victims and witnesses of crime. She is a working dog, and our staff is trained to respect her role in the office,” Buchholtz added.

“I have wanted to have a canine advocate for years, but several things must come together for this to happen. I am so pleased that Mark and Jamie have shown such commitment and dedication to provide our crime victims with an exceptional new advocate. Jellybean's contribution has already been invaluable. She is helping to soothe children and adults who are faced with a difficult and unusual situation. We look forward to her service for years to come,” Worthy said.