Above is Canine Advocate Joey, a Labrador retriever who will comfort child victims in the Allegan County court system. (Photo by Mara Jessup)

Allegan County Canine Advocate Joey will help child victims at court

By: 
Ryan Lewis, Editor

The newest court employee works for food and is a very good boy—and will also help children during a very stressful and vulnerable experience.

Joey is a 20-month-old, yellow Labrador retriever and he will help comfort youth through their experience in the Allegan County courthouse.

Allegan County Prosecuting Attorney, Myrene K. Koch said, “Joey will provide a valuable and much needed service to child victims in Allegan County. He will give comfort and support during what can be a very difficult time for victims both in and out of the court. We are fortunate to offer this service to the most vulnerable of citizens in Allegan County.”

He was trained by Leader Dogs for Blind and the Canine Advocate Program of Michigan in Oakland County. Originally on course to be a leader dog for the blind, Joey developed an almost imperceptible flaw in his vision. The Canine Advocate Program helped him find this new career; the organization has placed more than 24 dogs throughout the state with prosecutor’s offices, child advocacy centers, counseling services and specialty courts. A grant from the Crime Victims Foundation brought him to Allegan County.

Joey lives with the prosecutor’s office’s victim/witness coordinator, Emelda Calanchi-Pope, but also spends time with chief assistant prosecutor Judy Kasson.

After months acclimating to the courthouse and his new handlers, Joey took the oath of office Sept. 18, in Judge Margaret Zuzich Bakker’s courtroom—placing his paw on a copy of “A Dog’s Purpose.”

Koch said Joey is sorely needed.

“A child can have a lot of anxiety about testifying in court,” she said. “And it’s not only about the case itself but also it’s speaking in front of room of adults they don’t know.”

She said Joey can help alleviate that by meeting with the children at the courthouse before the hearing. Joey can also accompany the children to the witness box and be at hand while they give testimony.

“(Joey) can help alleviate a lot of their anxiety and make it easier to talk about what’s happened,” Koch said. “We’ve already seen, he’s been able to help victims when they come in. They pet him, comfort him, and that can be calming.”

The service will be provided for children up to age 16 for any type of criminal case as well as civil abuse and neglect cases.

Joey will also get something akin to baseball cards with his portrait that can be handed out for people to learn about the service.

Koch said her office has received support from the Allegan County Board of Commissioners, the county administrator, all of the county’s judges, her staff in the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement personnel, county employees, and the public.

She said those who would like to financially support Joey’s care or offer any services may contact the Allegan County Prosecutor’s Office at (269) 673-0280.

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

 

(Editor’s note: In print, this story incorrectly spelled chief assistant prosecutor Judy Kasson’s name; we regret the error.)

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