Louie at home in court

CAC’s new golden lab, Louie, now on duty

The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) of Grays Harbor has brought on a new team member — a golden Labrador.

Thanks to support from Canine Companions for Independence — an organization that works to breed, raise and train assistance dogs for children, veterans and adults — Grays Harbor residents will now have a facility dog at their disposal when faced with the emotional stress of court proceedings.

Sue Bucy, CAC executive director, said they have been talking about getting a courthouse or facility dog for the last decade. A prior director attended the annual courthouse dog international conference in Bellevue a few years ago and realized the good the animals could do.

“She saw the magic the dogs can bring to the agency, and came back sold on the idea and from there we started the process of applying,” Bucy said.

The process to get Louie, the 2-year-old golden Labrador now serving at CAC, was a long one. Bucy joked that it mirrors the process for adopting a child, as applicants are vetted, interviewed and later trained before a facility dog can be awarded.

“We do have a thorough application process,” said Michelle Williams, public relations and marketing coordinator at Canine Companions. “It begins with an application online, then a phone interview, then an in-person interview. We want to make sure there’s a need and it’s something we can provide.”

Bucy said the entire process for CAC took about two years, which is par for the course according to Williams.

“Once accepted to the wait list, they are invited to team training (the individual and the dog) for a two week intensive course where they stay at the campus,” Williams said.

Bucy traveled to Santa Rosa, Cali., for training at the headquarters for Canine Companions, and the birthplace of all companion puppies. There, handlers and puppies embarked on a learning experience. Lectures, practical applications and working one-on-one with the dogs were all part of the training before a dog could be placed with a handler.

“It was interesting to see how they matched a service dog to meet the needs of the person with the disability,” Bucy said. “It was amazing.”

Initially Bucy was interested in being paired with a golden retriever because she preferred the way they looked, however after being matched with Louie and spending the better part of two days with him, she knew it was the right fit.

“After having him in my total care for two days, it was like a match made in heaven and I thought, ‘I don’t need a retriever — this is what I need,’” she said.

Facility dogs like Louie help to decrease the amount of stress children and adults feel in the courtroom when discussing difficult subjects like abuse or when interviewing with a child interviewer at CAC. Grays Harbor County Prosecuting Attorney Katie Svoboda says she has seen the dogs in action and recognized the benefits of the program after attending a training presentation almost a decade ago.

“I got a lot of information about how these kids respond to the dogs, even physical effects like lowering blood pressure and heart rate,” Svoboda said. “It just makes a difficult undertaking better for these kids, and after seeing that presentation, I was sold.”

Tony Airhart, CAC deputy director, said regardless of what has happened in a child’s life, every child deserves a champion.

“Sometimes all you need is someone to stand by you,” Airhart said. “It gives the child strength, it gives the child comfort and it gives the child the feeling there’s somebody there.”

Companions not only help children through difficult times on the witness stand, but adults as well. Svoboda says that she has seen adults get through difficult testimonies by snuggling up with a companion.

“Not only did the child use the dog, but the mother also utilized the dog because the mom was very emotional and asked if she could also use the dog to help her through,” Svoboda said of a past experience.

Acquiring a dog trained for a specific purpose, like a courthouse or facility dog, is not cheap. CAC noted in a press release that the cost of a dog like Louie could total as much as $40,000. However, thanks to the efforts of Canine Companions and volunteers around the country, Louie was placed at his new, permanent home for free.

“There’s no way we could have funded that kind of expense ourselves. It really is their generosity and nonprofit partnerships that made this possible,” Airhart said.

Grays Harbor Veterinary Services has partnered with CAC by providing medical care for Louie.

“(Canine companions) is gifting us an expensive dog and there’s an expectation that we are going to care for that dog in a very specific and meaningful way,” he said.

Louie already is working at the Grays Harbor County Courthouse and at CAC in Montesano, and his presence is making a notable difference according to Bucy and Airhart. And while Louie is great overall, there is one complaint.

“Louie does snore. That’s about the only downside,” Airhart said.