Thursday, September 21, 2023

Courthouse Dog Comforts Victims And Employees

District Attorney's Office Will Add Second Dog As Services Are In Such High Demand


The Bernalillo County District Attorney's office's busiest employee might just be a 6-year-old oversized English lab who more closely resembles a teddy bear than a dog. Woodstock is the DA's courthouse service dog. Canine companions offer a form of therapeutic jurisprudence for use in the courtroom. Despite his calm and pleasant demeanor, Woodstock also boasts one of the most extensive resumes at the courthouse.

Woodstock is at the courthouse to support victims in court, transport victims and even lend his services to staff who deal with second-hand trauma. "Our office utilizes him not only to work with the victims in court in pretrial interviews. We have him do transports as well, because some victims need the extra assistance and extra support," said Leslie Ulibarri, who is a victim advocate administrator and one of Woodstock's handlers.

Woodstock also provides therapeutic benefits to victims of major traumatic events, like students at Washington Middle School. The dog was at the school providing therapy after 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove was killed by another student during lunch. The oversized English Lab provided emotional support and stability to students grappling with the tragedy.

Before Woodstock found employment at the courthouse, he was trained until the age of two at a library by Assistant Dogs of the West, based in Santa Fe. Ulibarri noted that he was a docile, intuitive and intelligent dog—even from an early age. This still holds true after four years of working with both staff and victims. "As a puppy, he was trained in the library with the children. That's why he's so quiet, and he's just a naturally calm and really emphatic, peaceful dog," Ulibarri said

Woodstock has undergone over 2,000 hours of training to be where he is at today. After his time spent at the public library, Woodstock trained for a year and a half with his handler.

His services are in such high demand that he has several handlers who accompany him to his various assignments. Ulibarri did emphasize that the DA's Office is keen not to overwork Woodstock. Due to the high volume of work of the District Court, Woodstock is limited to just four hours of work a day. The benefits of canine therapy are in such high demand that next summer the District Attorney's Office will get their second facility dog thanks to a grant from United Way of Central New Mexico.

Woodstock's training has also made him vital in the office. Whether it's a crime victim or an employee experiencing discomfort, Woodstock is able to detect emotional distress immediately. "He has the innate ability when someone is stressed, or in crisis mode, he will go over there to calm the situation."

The DA's Office has also benefited from his services when mediating with a victim. "He has the ability to make a victim feel calm in a matter of minutes, and he can mediate a situation that would take our staff either weeks or months to do," Ulibarri added. 


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