Healthy Kids, Healthy Families, an initiative of Blue Cross Blue Shield New Mexico, has granted ADW $15,000 in support of our training and placement of Courthouse Dogs in the New Mexico judicial system. This is news of just one of two noteworthy grants we have recently received that I am eager to share (Click here to read about the other one.) This generous HKHF grant goes to our 1 Dog: Many People programming and will partially support our training of the next generation of Courthouse Dogs to be placed in New Mexico Judicial Districts in 2015.
Sharing this great news gives me the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the significant contributions Courthouse Dogs make — and how they do so. Furthermore, it comes at a time when ADW’s expertise in selecting and training Courthouse Dogs is generating more and more demand from the New Mexico Judiciary and districts across the county for our dogs who support children and families.
What we’ve found through our ongoing work with the National Courthouse Dog Foundation is that children who must give legal testimony about alleged domestic violence, abuse or neglect are frequently put in a position of more suffering. Having to speak testimony aloud in court is frequently a re-traumatizing event for children already victimized. This reality can have the unintended consequence that just when they most need to be heard, children can become so re-traumatized that they fall silent.
Here is where Courthouse Dogs play their distinctive role, with remarkable results. Dogs working with a primary handler in the court system comfort the child. That primary handler might be a special victim advocate, a forensic investigator, a medical specialist or a CASA volunteer. The handlers have learned on the job that it might be the dog to whom the child begins to speak. The dog’s presence helps the child to relax and to feel safer, thus enabling the essential judicial processes to go forward.
Since 2010, ADW has placed 10 Courthouse Dogs in New Mexico. We have requests now to supply additional dogs to work in the Fifth Judicial District (Roswell, Hobbs, Lovington), as well as in the Second Judicial District in Albuquerque and First Judicial District in Santa Fe.
This generous program support from HKHF will enable us to answer some of these requests. BCBS NM describes their grant program growing out of “our mission to promote the health and wellness of our members and communities. BCBSNM takes seriously our responsibilities as a corporate citizen,” they write.
What’s involved as ADW sets to train Courthouse Dogs? The dogs must be able to master commands for navigation and precise positioning in order to work unobtrusively inside courtrooms. They must have calm and affectionate temperaments in order to relate to people of all ages during highly emotionally charged encounters.
Support from HFHK recognizes that ADW contributes a full spectrum of community and family support through our Courthouse Dogs program.
In the placement process, we engage legal professionals in an extensive interview and application. These client handlers typically interview with potential dog matches for 6 to 24 months. Once selected, the handlers participate in our intensive Client Placement Training program.
All this occurs only after the dogs have received their full training from ADW staff and student trainers. Turning the clock back still further, the process begins with ADW’s expert assessment about which dogs will succeed as Courthouse Dogs because they have the innate qualities needed to be patient and calm as well as attentive and adaptable to many unforeseen situations.
We estimate that some 4500 children, teenagers and adult family members will be served through our Courthouse Dog work this year. We give heartfelt thanks to BCBS New Mexico 2014 Healthy Kids, Healthy Families Grant Program! And please consider adding your donation in support of our Courthouse Dogs program. Please click here to visit our donations page and make your support felt!