Give That Dog a Milkbone Watch

[Content Note: Descriptions of child abuse.]

image of a black lab

Stilson is a courtroom black lab who is retiring after seven years of service, during which he comforted hundreds of children who survived abuse, in Snohomish County, Washington:
Stilson came to the Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office in 2006. He was the second dog in the nation to be employed by prosecutors. After seeing a presentation about the first service dog being used in Seattle, Heidi Potter who works in the Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office stayed behind and wanted to know about getting a dog for her office.

Potter agreed to undergo the training and be responsible for a dog, including paying for his food and medical bills. After training and socialization Stilson was matched up with Potter and he has been helping victims ever since. Potter works as the lead victim-witness advocate and Stilson was by her side helping victims to open up and feel comfortable as they told their stories.

"I love that dog. I love what he has done for kids and victims," said Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Lisa Paul. "He helps them face what they have to face in the criminal justice system."

Paul prosecuted a case last fall where an 11-year-old girl who testified how she was repeatedly whipped with electrical cords, burned with lit cigarettes and starved for days. As she testified Stilson lay at her feet. For two hours the gentle Labrador didn't move or make a sound, he just lay there bringing comfort to the girl.

[Potter and Stilson] are moving to California where Stilson's plans are to become a beach bum and getting the rest he deserves. Potter recalls how Stilson would often come home exhausted; he'd eat dinner and then go right to bed. He spent all day absorbing the grief and hurt of the victims he comforted.

"He's burned out," said Potter. "He's almost 9 years old and he's worked with hundreds of children. He's had hundreds of kids crying on him and climbing on him. It's time for him just to be a dog.
All the blubs.

Every courtroom in the country should have a comfort animal. (Or, ideally, multiple comfort animals, in case someone is scared of one.) It's certainly not unattainable, given the number of unwanted animals. And cuddly, empathic Sophs and Zelly are perfect examples of abandoned shelter animals who are eminently capable of this kind of work, if only given the chance. It could be done. All we need is the political will to fund better support for trauma survivors. And unwanted animals.

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